We had a guest squatter in our vacation rental!

18 Replies

Covid-19 has changed life as we know it for sure, and that is the reason why so many companies and services have developed different and new ways to provide the best to their clients even when it means walking on a new path, considering options that weren't on the table before and being more flexible on the processes. Unfortunately, when we did our best to be a light for those last-minute responders and others stuck without entry into their country of origin due to the international lock-down, an individual took advantage of our good intentions.

On April, we experienced the toughest month industry-wide and for our company as well. Like many other hosts, we took action, lowering our nightly rates and betting for lengthy stays. We identified a need for first responders, locals needing to quarantine and travelers who happen to prolong their stay due to traveling restrictions. Therefore, the larger homes we manage made all the sense for a 2 week or more quarantine discount and we decided to move in that direction. We made our screening process more flexible, which did not require the guest to sign a rental agreement before their check-in.

At one instance there was a lady interested in one of our properties, which later became a booking. At that point, everything was typical but when her check-out date was arriving, she requested an extension that we gladly processed directly avoiding service fees. Little did we know our nightmare was about to start.

Unlike other hosts, we process direct bookings, and this was a loophole our squatter exploited to get away with it. We first processed her reservation through booking.com and eventually handled the extension directly. She extended her stay a couple more times until we received notifications her credit card had no funds.

We didn't panic since it could happen to anyone. Once we communicated with the guest asking for explanations, she told us “I am not paying anything, you will have to do an eviction.” She refused any phone, text, or face-to-face communication, giving us no chance to negotiate.

We called the police on-site several times to help us vacate the guest squatter, she insisted she was a tenant paying month to month, huge red gag. Nevertheless, under Florida law and police officers, the situation must be taken as a civil matter, which required us to file a residential eviction with the courts. The cherry on top was on April 2nd Florida's governor ordered a 45-day suspension of all evictions and foreclosures due to the non-payment of rent related to the COVID-19 emergency. The guest squatter knew this and exploited it!!

Typically, if a guest lawfully stays on the premises for more than 30 consecutive days, they acquire legal tenant rights (depending on the regulations of your state). According to these right, the landlord cannot do things like cutting off the power or changing the locks since it is against the tenant rights and possibly giving her arguments. Evicting a guest at this point could only be done through a formal eviction process via the lengthy court process.

You might be wondering: Why did it take you so long to figure out the credit card was fraudulent? Did you notice something strange in those recurrent extensions? The software we were using to verify the payments, took a week to corroborate its trustworthiness. We didn’t find anything suspicious at the moment because everything seemed to be OK with the credit cards. However, our rush to increase occupancy kept us apart evaluating our weaknesses and risks.

When you lower the prices as much as the market did during the spike of the pandemic, you open the door to problematic guests. If you do so, you should improve your screening process, and include other guarantees such as a rental agreement form and a security deposit or a contingency plan for problematic guests or tenants which at that time, in midst of chaos, we didn’t.

Before this event, the property was performing exceptionally well netting over $10,000 in the earlier months of 2020. With this in mind, it impacted our business with an incredible amount of work hours dedicated to working with attorneys and courts to process the eviction. Overall, we can estimate a financial loss of over $30,000.00.

Since the incident, our procedures changed tremendously. We are definitely more cautious, since this unexpected situation not only affected us, it also impacted our relationship with partner owners and the trust and commitment we have built with them over the years. After this meaningful experience, we improved our screening process, requiring verification and identifications, the signing of a rental agreement, and security deposits.

We also enhanced our check-in process securing all our properties entry with more sophisticated keypads.
In regard to technology, we acquired a real-time verification payment gateway. We also started using more features from our channel manager to make our booking process and transactions more secure.

Use these tips to protect yourself against potential guest squatters! Specially now in this second uprise of COVID cases.
- Be careful with direct bookings.
- Do not use a payment system that has a delay in authenticating transactions.
- Be very selective with guests extensions.
- Have your guest acknowledge your house rules and always have a security deposit. (we implemented an easy CC hold, to avoid transaction fees)
- Do not give access to the property until ID verifications, CC hold, an agreement signed, and of course payment has been confirmed.
- The rental agreement should clearly state that the property is a vacation rental property and that they agree to check-in and check-out date.


I'm interested in knowing if you've ever experienced a situation like this before? How did you manage the situation?
Is this a fear that you face when you considered using your home as a vacation rental?
What do you think about being flexible under these circumstances, if you have what features have you implemented?

Haha!  This CAN happen!  We have a couple of very slow months in the Smokies - Jan and Feb - and one of our housekeepers decided to move into one of our cabins for a few days with her family!  But what do you know, we had a booking for that cabin and the guests showed up with our housekeeper and her family there!  We called the police and they were all arrested.  Hated to do that, but you can't mess around with this nonsense.  

@Sebastian Giraldo oh wow sorry this is happening to you! We have never had it happen, but we also don’t allow 30 day stays for this reason. At 30 days they do acquire tenants rights and they have these legal loopholes. I would call a local attorney immediately to get the ball rolling on getting her out!

Oh man! I’m so sorry to hear that this happened to you! It’s definitely something I’ve been cautious about. I only book via AirBnb and our max stay is 28 days for this reason. If someone truly wants to do a long stay; we will do a traditional lease with full month’s deposit up front. I did that once, for someone that I had met in person prior to the arrangements being made.
What a terrible situation. Thanks for the reminder to be vigilant and to keep a balanced focus on occupancy/bookings as well as risk (trust no one).

I walked in on an unknown squatter.  He had broken in and was sleeping in one of the beds.  I called the police.  They were there in 30 seconds.  He was cuffed and stuffed.  Police found meth in his belongings.  He spent 18 months in jail.  I took up boxing and weightlifting.  Tried Krav Maga but my wife didn't like to spar with me.

Originally posted by @Sebastian Giraldo :

Covid-19 has changed life as we know it for sure, and that is the reason why so many companies and services have developed different and new ways to provide the best to their clients even when it means walking on a new path, considering options that weren't on the table before and being more flexible on the processes. Unfortunately, when we did our best to be a light for those last-minute responders and others stuck without entry into their country of origin due to the international lock-down, an individual took advantage of our good intentions.

On April, we experienced the toughest month industry-wide and for our company as well. Like many other hosts, we took action, lowering our nightly rates and betting for lengthy stays. We identified a need for first responders, locals needing to quarantine and travelers who happen to prolong their stay due to traveling restrictions. Therefore, the larger homes we manage made all the sense for a 2 week or more quarantine discount and we decided to move in that direction. We made our screening process more flexible, which did not require the guest to sign a rental agreement before their check-in.

At one instance there was a lady interested in one of our properties, which later became a booking. At that point, everything was typical but when her check-out date was arriving, she requested an extension that we gladly processed directly avoiding service fees. Little did we know our nightmare was about to start.

Unlike other hosts, we process direct bookings, and this was a loophole our squatter exploited to get away with it. We first processed her reservation through booking.com and eventually handled the extension directly. She extended her stay a couple more times until we received notifications her credit card had no funds.

We didn't panic since it could happen to anyone. Once we communicated with the guest asking for explanations, she told us “I am not paying anything, you will have to do an eviction.” She refused any phone, text, or face-to-face communication, giving us no chance to negotiate.

We called the police on-site several times to help us vacate the guest squatter, she insisted she was a tenant paying month to month, huge red gag. Nevertheless, under Florida law and police officers, the situation must be taken as a civil matter, which required us to file a residential eviction with the courts. The cherry on top was on April 2nd Florida's governor ordered a 45-day suspension of all evictions and foreclosures due to the non-payment of rent related to the COVID-19 emergency. The guest squatter knew this and exploited it!!

Typically, if a guest lawfully stays on the premises for more than 30 consecutive days, they acquire legal tenant rights (depending on the regulations of your state). According to these right, the landlord cannot do things like cutting off the power or changing the locks since it is against the tenant rights and possibly giving her arguments. Evicting a guest at this point could only be done through a formal eviction process via the lengthy court process.

You might be wondering: Why did it take you so long to figure out the credit card was fraudulent? Did you notice something strange in those recurrent extensions? The software we were using to verify the payments, took a week to corroborate its trustworthiness. We didn’t find anything suspicious at the moment because everything seemed to be OK with the credit cards. However, our rush to increase occupancy kept us apart evaluating our weaknesses and risks.

When you lower the prices as much as the market did during the spike of the pandemic, you open the door to problematic guests. If you do so, you should improve your screening process, and include other guarantees such as a rental agreement form and a security deposit or a contingency plan for problematic guests or tenants which at that time, in midst of chaos, we didn’t.

Before this event, the property was performing exceptionally well netting over $10,000 in the earlier months of 2020. With this in mind, it impacted our business with an incredible amount of work hours dedicated to working with attorneys and courts to process the eviction. Overall, we can estimate a financial loss of over $30,000.00.

Since the incident, our procedures changed tremendously. We are definitely more cautious, since this unexpected situation not only affected us, it also impacted our relationship with partner owners and the trust and commitment we have built with them over the years. After this meaningful experience, we improved our screening process, requiring verification and identifications, the signing of a rental agreement, and security deposits.

We also enhanced our check-in process securing all our properties entry with more sophisticated keypads.
In regard to technology, we acquired a real-time verification payment gateway. We also started using more features from our channel manager to make our booking process and transactions more secure.

Use these tips to protect yourself against potential guest squatters! Specially now in this second uprise of COVID cases.
- Be careful with direct bookings.
- Do not use a payment system that has a delay in authenticating transactions.
- Be very selective with guests extensions.
- Have your guest acknowledge your house rules and always have a security deposit. (we implemented an easy CC hold, to avoid transaction fees)
- Do not give access to the property until ID verifications, CC hold, an agreement signed, and of course payment has been confirmed.
- The rental agreement should clearly state that the property is a vacation rental property and that they agree to check-in and check-out date.


I'm interested in knowing if you've ever experienced a situation like this before? How did you manage the situation?
Is this a fear that you face when you considered using your home as a vacation rental?
What do you think about being flexible under these circumstances, if you have what features have you implemented?

Oh wow, sorry to hear that. This is also an area where smart electronics can help you. If a guest overstays their welcome, I can remotely:


  • Lock them out
  • Turn on the house alarm
  • Turn off their heat and air conditioning
  • Turn off the water
  • Cut off their TV services
  • Cut off their Internet

  • Basically, they will have a roof over their head but it will be the least comfortable place to reside with no heat or AC or water or Internet and an alarm going off! 😆

  • actually, I just thought of two more things. If you have a long-term renter who refuses to leave, typically the power bill is in their name. But when it’s a short term renter who refuses to leave, the power bill is in your name. And also the lock on the front door is under your control. So can’t you do either of these two things?

  • Either call the power company and tell them you are leaving town for 90 days and would like to have them shut off your power immediately?
  • Or send your handyman over to the house, and have them flip off the power from the main circuit breaker box, and have them put a lock on the circuit breaker so that the guest cannot turn it back on

I had a couple of psychotic mutts that decided to not pay their rent.  I decided to have their electric and water disconnected by the city.  They decided to use 2 metal shears wrapped in electrical tape to jump the 2 hot lugs in the meter box to the 2 lines that fed the house.  These were the same people with rattlesnakes.  A couple of weeks ago I found out the bigger psychotic mutt had been committed to a mental institution and his wife divorced him while he was in there.

Originally posted by @Collin H. :

Haha!  This CAN happen!  We have a couple of very slow months in the Smokies - Jan and Feb - and one of our housekeepers decided to move into one of our cabins for a few days with her family!  But what do you know, we had a booking for that cabin and the guests showed up with our housekeeper and her family there!  We called the police and they were all arrested.  Hated to do that, but you can't mess around with this nonsense.  

Yes, sometimes is a really uncomfortable situation but at the end we have to act with honesty doing the right thing to do following justice, so we can do our job in the most responsable way!

 

Updated 7 months ago

Thank you very much for your answer!

Originally posted by @Avery Carl :

@Sebastian Giraldo oh wow sorry this is happening to you! We have never had it happen, but we also don’t allow 30 day stays for this reason. At 30 days they do acquire tenants rights and they have these legal loopholes. I would call a local attorney immediately to get the ball rolling on getting her out!

We made the best out of this and turned this experience into growth for our business. Not allowing 30 day stays seems like a good idea to prevent this from happening!

 

Updated 7 months ago

Thank you very much for your answer!

Originally posted by @Chris Gottshall :

Oh man! I’m so sorry to hear that this happened to you! It’s definitely something I’ve been cautious about. I only book via AirBnb and our max stay is 28 days for this reason. If someone truly wants to do a long stay; we will do a traditional lease with full month’s deposit up front. I did that once, for someone that I had met in person prior to the arrangements being made.
What a terrible situation. Thanks for the reminder to be vigilant and to keep a balanced focus on occupancy/bookings as well as risk (trust no one).

Thank you very much for your response,  definitely that's a great idea to prevent things like this from happening, it's really good to do as you said when it comes to longer stays!

Originally posted by @Paul Sandhu :

I walked in on an unknown squatter.  He had broken in and was sleeping in one of the beds.  I called the police.  They were there in 30 seconds.  He was cuffed and stuffed.  Police found meth in his belongings.  He spent 18 months in jail.  I took up boxing and weightlifting.  Tried Krav Maga but my wife didn't like to spar with me.

Thank you very much for sharing your story! That is a really sad, it must be really hard not only to face this situation by itself but adding to it the scare of having someone breaking into your property. At the end justice always triumphs in these scenarios. 

 

Originally posted by @Mark Miles :
Originally posted by @Sebastian Giraldo:

Covid-19 has changed life as we know it for sure, and that is the reason why so many companies and services have developed different and new ways to provide the best to their clients even when it means walking on a new path, considering options that weren't on the table before and being more flexible on the processes. Unfortunately, when we did our best to be a light for those last-minute responders and others stuck without entry into their country of origin due to the international lock-down, an individual took advantage of our good intentions.

On April, we experienced the toughest month industry-wide and for our company as well. Like many other hosts, we took action, lowering our nightly rates and betting for lengthy stays. We identified a need for first responders, locals needing to quarantine and travelers who happen to prolong their stay due to traveling restrictions. Therefore, the larger homes we manage made all the sense for a 2 week or more quarantine discount and we decided to move in that direction. We made our screening process more flexible, which did not require the guest to sign a rental agreement before their check-in.

At one instance there was a lady interested in one of our properties, which later became a booking. At that point, everything was typical but when her check-out date was arriving, she requested an extension that we gladly processed directly avoiding service fees. Little did we know our nightmare was about to start.

Unlike other hosts, we process direct bookings, and this was a loophole our squatter exploited to get away with it. We first processed her reservation through booking.com and eventually handled the extension directly. She extended her stay a couple more times until we received notifications her credit card had no funds.

We didn't panic since it could happen to anyone. Once we communicated with the guest asking for explanations, she told us “I am not paying anything, you will have to do an eviction.” She refused any phone, text, or face-to-face communication, giving us no chance to negotiate.

We called the police on-site several times to help us vacate the guest squatter, she insisted she was a tenant paying month to month, huge red gag. Nevertheless, under Florida law and police officers, the situation must be taken as a civil matter, which required us to file a residential eviction with the courts. The cherry on top was on April 2nd Florida's governor ordered a 45-day suspension of all evictions and foreclosures due to the non-payment of rent related to the COVID-19 emergency. The guest squatter knew this and exploited it!!

Typically, if a guest lawfully stays on the premises for more than 30 consecutive days, they acquire legal tenant rights (depending on the regulations of your state). According to these right, the landlord cannot do things like cutting off the power or changing the locks since it is against the tenant rights and possibly giving her arguments. Evicting a guest at this point could only be done through a formal eviction process via the lengthy court process.

You might be wondering: Why did it take you so long to figure out the credit card was fraudulent? Did you notice something strange in those recurrent extensions? The software we were using to verify the payments, took a week to corroborate its trustworthiness. We didn’t find anything suspicious at the moment because everything seemed to be OK with the credit cards. However, our rush to increase occupancy kept us apart evaluating our weaknesses and risks.

When you lower the prices as much as the market did during the spike of the pandemic, you open the door to problematic guests. If you do so, you should improve your screening process, and include other guarantees such as a rental agreement form and a security deposit or a contingency plan for problematic guests or tenants which at that time, in midst of chaos, we didn’t.

Before this event, the property was performing exceptionally well netting over $10,000 in the earlier months of 2020. With this in mind, it impacted our business with an incredible amount of work hours dedicated to working with attorneys and courts to process the eviction. Overall, we can estimate a financial loss of over $30,000.00.

Since the incident, our procedures changed tremendously. We are definitely more cautious, since this unexpected situation not only affected us, it also impacted our relationship with partner owners and the trust and commitment we have built with them over the years. After this meaningful experience, we improved our screening process, requiring verification and identifications, the signing of a rental agreement, and security deposits.

We also enhanced our check-in process securing all our properties entry with more sophisticated keypads.
In regard to technology, we acquired a real-time verification payment gateway. We also started using more features from our channel manager to make our booking process and transactions more secure.

Use these tips to protect yourself against potential guest squatters! Specially now in this second uprise of COVID cases.
- Be careful with direct bookings.
- Do not use a payment system that has a delay in authenticating transactions.
- Be very selective with guests extensions.
- Have your guest acknowledge your house rules and always have a security deposit. (we implemented an easy CC hold, to avoid transaction fees)
- Do not give access to the property until ID verifications, CC hold, an agreement signed, and of course payment has been confirmed.
- The rental agreement should clearly state that the property is a vacation rental property and that they agree to check-in and check-out date.


I'm interested in knowing if you've ever experienced a situation like this before? How did you manage the situation?
Is this a fear that you face when you considered using your home as a vacation rental?
What do you think about being flexible under these circumstances, if you have what features have you implemented?

Oh wow, sorry to hear that. This is also an area where smart electronics can help you. If a guest overstays their welcome, I can remotely:


  • Lock them out
  • Turn on the house alarm
  • Turn off their heat and air conditioning
  • Turn off the water
  • Cut off their TV services
  • Cut off their Internet

  • Basically, they will have a roof over their head but it will be the least comfortable place to reside with no heat or AC or water or Internet and an alarm going off! 😆

  • actually, I just thought of two more things. If you have a long-term renter who refuses to leave, typically the power bill is in their name. But when it’s a short term renter who refuses to leave, the power bill is in your name. And also the lock on the front door is under your control. So can’t you do either of these two things?

  • Either call the power company and tell them you are leaving town for 90 days and would like to have them shut off your power immediately?
  • Or send your handyman over to the house, and have them flip off the power from the main circuit breaker box, and have them put a lock on the circuit breaker so that the guest cannot turn it back on

    Thank you very much for your answer and all the great advices on good and useful smart electronics, that is something that we definitly would like to invest soon, those things really make a diference not only making the property more attractive with those gagdets and devices but will also be very useful in these kind of situations that we always need to prevent!

 

Originally posted by @Paul Sandhu :

I had a couple of psychotic mutts that decided to not pay their rent.  I decided to have their electric and water disconnected by the city.  They decided to use 2 metal shears wrapped in electrical tape to jump the 2 hot lugs in the meter box to the 2 lines that fed the house.  These were the same people with rattlesnakes.  A couple of weeks ago I found out the bigger psychotic mutt had been committed to a mental institution and his wife divorced him while he was in there.

Thank you very much for sharing your story, sometimes we never know what are we going to get as tenants or guests, that is the reason why is so important to be super specific with contracts and rules so we don't end up having unfortunate surprises and ugly situations...

@Sebastian Giraldo at times like this, when people take advantage and try to exploit loopholes, it is very difficult for me to play nicely. It gets my creative juices flowing.

If I were in that situation, I would probably ask a friend or two to move into the house with the lady still living there. I would give him/them a month-to-month rental agreement (at no actual charge) and his/their only one job would be to make her as uncomfortable as possible to make her want to leave. My guess is that she doesn’t have any rental agreement that states that the property is not able to be rented by the room correct? After your friend/friends has/have gone through the fridge and eaten her food and gone through her personal effects a few times times and listened to loud music while was trying to sleep, I think she would probably want to leave. I mean, what is she going to do?  She has no rental agreement and your friend/friends does/do. What could/would the police do in this type of situation? It’s the classic crowding someone out.

Does anyone see anything illegal about this approach?

@Sebastian Giraldo

It is great writing. I own a small motel used as weekly rental. I dealt with this same situation. I think the guests become tenants after three months in Maryland. Wonder if anyone has more in-depth experiences.

It sucks to have to do eviction in the same time we have to pay high hotel taxes.

@Shiloh Lundahl

It is definitely illegal but effective I have to say. I would even go further than that. When she is not in the room, pack her belongings and put in storage and change keys and put someone else in the room. You may lose court case but the problem is gone.

In Florida evictions are halted for non payment of rent or mortgage only.

In your case you should have started an action for holdover tenant with damage for double rent. The writ of possession for those have restarted and are not subject to the abeyance from the governor executive order.

@Shiloh Lundahl Funny you say that! We actually considered leaving a huge speaker on all day since it is a duplex and maybe banging noices her eand there. As far as having someone move in they seemed very low income therefore, I was afraid it may get violent.

@Sam Shi  I feel your pain. Since I manage this property for a partner owner he had to be onboard and he wasn't okay with the more forceful alternatives. If it were my property I would have moved ALL the furniture out and perhaps spend a few hours with them there. Im not afraid of anything honestly. In my lifetime Ive had a few guns drawn at me. But we'll leave that for another conversation haha. 

@Mike S. You hit the nail on the head! That is exactly what we did Mike. They are gone now. Guess what! They stole all the furniture and left the day before court. Blows my mind how people like this exist. I'm looking into pressing charges because she will just continue with her next victim.