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Renting to Short Term Tenants

Strategies When Renting Your Properties Through VRBO or AirBNB


More and more landlords are filling their rental properties with short-term tenants and vacationers.  The popularity of websites like and have the potential of producing income by operating a rental property like a hostel or inn.  The higher rates and shorter term tenancies are attractive to homeowners who will be away on sabbatical or vacation.  


Unfortunately, there are some tenants who cause troubles for homeowners.  One recent scenario involves a landlord renting to a short term tenant through a website. After several days the tenant asked to remain for several more weeks.  The landlord agreed and the tenant paid for a month by check.  The check bounced.  The tenant refused to move and the landlord began receiving angry calls from neighbors about police activity, theft and damage to the property.  Because the landlord had turned the occupancy to a month-to-month tenancy (for free as the check bounced), neither the website that generated the tenancy nor the police were willing to do anything on behalf of the homeowners.  The tenants were evicted for non-payment of rent after delivery of a three-day notice, a complaint for unlawful detainer, and a wait of several weeks before the matter could be heard in court. The property was thoroughly damaged and personal property was stolen.


Based on this and similar experiences our firm has encountered representing homeowners renting on a short-term basis, here are a few thoughts on how best to prepare your property for this use.


The Residential Landlord-Tenant Act of Washington Applies


Some homeowners are surprised to learn that they may not simply change the locks on a vacation renter as if this was a hotel.  There is an exception to the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act under RCW 59.18.040(3) for hotels.  Hotels, however, are defined as buildings with three or more rooms held out for rent.  See: RCW 19.48.010.  Many houses will not meet this definition.  Landlords considering using their property for vacation rentals should keep this in mind, as the Act imposes strict penalties on landlords who engage in self-help evictions.


Fair Housing laws, laws against discrimination, and ADA regulations apply, too.  Be familiar with the obligations and restrictions on landlords.


Don’t Rely on the Website


The website that introduced you will not help or reimburse you if the tenant destroys your property or refuses to move.  Before allowing someone you may never meet to enter and live in your house, screen the renter as you would a normal tenant. Check your homeowner’s policy to determine if you are covered for any damage caused by an itinerant guest or renter.


Generate Your Own Lease and House Rules


AirBnB and similar businesses rely on the good will and fair dealing of both the landlord and the tenant.  While this usually works, the legal fees alone to remove a bad tenant may exceed the value of several positive vacation tenant experiences.  With this in mind, consider drafting a short-term lease that clearly indicates the dates of the tenancy and your expectations as a landlord.  An occupant of property who remains in possession after the term of the lease is immediately guilty of unlawful detainer by law.  See: RCW 59.12.030(1).  No pre-eviction notice is required, and the Seattle Just Cause Eviction Ordinance does not apply to occupants who agreed to vacate and then didn’t.  A landlord may save a week or more off the time necessary to evict a “reluctant” vacation renter by having a document signed by the tenant acknowledging when the lease ends.


Get Paid Up Front 


Simply put, a prospective tenant who is not able or willing to pay in full for the entire term of the tenancy should not be allowed access.  There should be no exceptions to this policy.  It takes longer to remove a tenant in possession of real property than it does to wait until the banks open so the tenant can get a cashier’s check or money order.


Stick to the Terms of the Lease


If the tenant wants to extend her stay and you do not object, have her sign a new lease or a lease addendum changing the end date of the lease.  Require payment of the new term at the time the new lease is signed. Do not allow the tenant to remain “just one more day” without an agreement to move.  If you do, the tenant may be able to successfully argue she is now a month-to-month tenant.  It may be some time and a thousand dollars or more in legal fees to get the sheriff to remove the tenant.  Without “just cause” it could be longer.


Some of these observations and scenarios may seem over-the-top and needlessly conservative.  That may be, but consider that lawyers regularly see the horror stories and worst-case scenarios.  Before allowing someone to take possession of their property, landlords can help protect themselves by making an informed decision and weighing the risks.  Proper planning before entering into a short-term tenancy will greatly reduce the threat of a long-term problem.


If you need assistance with a tenant dispute, an eviction, a lease or other landlord-tenant situation, please call 206.628.6600 today to speak with one of our experienced attorneys.

Important: This information is provided as a courtesy without any claim as to its effectiveness or legality. Use of this information does not in any way create an attorney-client relationship.

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