Airbnbs, VRBOs and similar vacation rentals are especially susceptible to accidents, aka drunken shenanigans, aka chucking a futon through the sliding glass doors after drinking nine tequilas. But whether you accidentally break a small vase while feeling your way through a dark, unfamiliar home, or do a hammered futon shot put, at what point do you need to let your host know what happened, if ever?
It mostly depends on how much of a dick you are, really. For starters, whether you tell them or not, many vacation rental services require security deposits or have insurance policies to protect renters from reckless (read: drunk) tenants — and to protect tenants from, well, themselves. “Accidents happen, and we encourage guests to be honest when items break, so property managers and vacation home owners can fix or replace those items for future guests,” says Alison Kwong, of VRBO vacation rentals. “To cover accidental damages, vacation home owners and property managers can require guests to pay a refundable damage deposit or suggest that guests purchase a property damage protection plan through a trip insurance provider.”
So, if you break something and refuse to fess up, the host could end up just pulling money out of your security deposit, anyway. In which case, you might as well at least apologize.
On the other hand, if you admit to your mistake and the insurance kicks in, you might not have to pay anything, even if you really did it this time. “Airbnb has insurance and will sometimes cover damages,” says Drew, a frequent renter. “My friend and I kicked a door in. Not proud of it, but it happened. The hosts were kind of pissed and filed a claim with Airbnb, and then Airbnb covered it. Blew me away.”
The same thing presumably happened to Matthew, who melted part of a kitchen while staying at an Airbnb in Rome. “I was making coffee on one of those European stovetop coffee makers, and unbeknownst to me, it was clogged at the top,” he tells me. “The heat and clogging basically made it into a coffee bomb that exploded all over the kitchen and melted off all of the wallpaper. I messaged the host using the checkout messaging to say his coffee pot was all fucked up, and that it blew up. There was a gnarly language barrier, but he basically said something like, ‘Yes, okay.’ He gave me five stars and never said anything again. No charge, nothing.”
If you try to hide the damage you caused and refuse to go through your rental service to deal with it, though, the host might come after you — and without knowing your side of the story, the rental service has a lot more reason to make you pay up (and remember, they have your card information). “We broke a couch and a jacuzzi in Big Bear last year,” says Quade, another frequent Airbnb renter. “We never let them know and just cleaned up the best we could. A couple days later, the host contacted us on Airbnb requesting damage fees. They said the jacuzzi had to be drained and cleaned because it was misused and dirty, and that the arm of the couch was completely broken. Eventually, we just paid, even though we were unsure if we actually caused the damage. It was like an extra $500 or $700.”
But perhaps worst of all, if you neglect to say anything and the host doesn’t notice until, say, after the insurance period expires, or until another renter leaves a bad review “because of the broken microwave,” you have to live with the fact that they had to pay for your fuckup. “People stole things, and I didn’t realize it until after they were long gone,” says Meg, an Airbnb host who’s been renting rooms in her various homes for more than a decade, adding that she’s just had to live with the losses at this point.
So, as cheesy as it may sound, if you break something in a vacation rental, your best bet is to fess up and follow the Golden Rule of treating others as you want to be treated. And I’m going to go ahead and guess that if someone tossed your futon through your sliding glass doors, you’d want them to at least let you know what happened and help you deal with cleaning it up.