Sunday 16 February 2020

Nightmare guests at the holiday cottage

In our rental Holiday Cottage we leave a handbook for our guests to provide helpful guidance and also to remind them of the conditions of booking. One of those conditions is that the rental is strictly non-smoking. A recent pair of guests, during a four week stay, appear to have ignored that condition leaving the whole cottage reeking of cigarette smoke on their departure. This would be very unpleasant for the next set of guests who have booked expecting a non-smoking accommodation free of the smells of tobacco smoke. During the "turn around" period between bookings we have only four hours to clean the place and to rectify any problems in the accommodation.  As part of the cottage handbook we ask guests to contact us before they leave of any faults/issues with the cottage. We even provide a free phone facility for such reports. It gives us chance to prepare in advance to fix the problems.

Here's what we found on arrival and had to fix quickly before the next guests:
  • A strong smell of tobacco smoke throughout the property, there was a Febreze Heavy Smoker spray (empty) left behind where they had attempted to mask the smell.
  • The security 5-lever back door lock was broken (damage) and had to be replaced.
  • Rubbish had been accumulated, and not put out for collection. We had to take away four large bags full to the council tip.
  • The vacuum cleaner was jammed with dog hair and not working properly, we had to replace it.
  • The cottage handbook was missing, we'd placed a new one at the commencement of their stay with a complete list of Council waste collections.
  • Five light bulbs needed replacing, no prior warning of the issue.
  • The shower drain was blocked with dog fur.
  • The toilet seat was damaged.
  • There were three cigarette burns on the kitchen table.
  • A kitchen cupboard was left in disarray.
  • A large cushion has disappeared from the property.
  • The bedside table was badly marked by cup rings, despite coasters being provided.
We arrived to undertake a normal cleaning process for a guest turn-around, without warning of the problems. To deal with the smoke odour we had to strip all linen, towels, seat covers, curtains from the building. We treated the carpets throughout the house with carpet deodorising powder. We washed down all interior walls in the building with sugar soap cleaner and treat exposed woodwork with orange oil polish. We collected another vacuum cleaner to remove the deodorising powder, clean the carpets, and to leave the unit for the next guests' use. Seat covers were replaced with spares and the damaged ones sent for dry cleaning. All bedding and towels were swapped out, and later given three wash cycles (12 hours load for the machine) to remove the smoke smell. Four pillows were removed from the bed and replaced by on-site spares.Three rugs replaced, for washing. The bedroom and lounge curtains were replaced with new curtains, we didn't have time to get them cleaned, before the new guests. We replaced the missing cushion. We had enough spare light bulbs on site to replace the broken ones, we've ordered some more spares.

In order to get the place ready in time for the next guests, we had a service company to resolve the problem with the shower drain, to replace the back door security lock and treat the bedroom table (£165 invoice received). 

We donned rubber gloves to empty the waste bins, removing an unusually large amount of cigarette packets and beer/spirit cans and bottles. We took four large full bin bags, and cardboard boxes left by the guests, to the local waste depot (16 miles travel). The vacuum cleaner has been sent for repair, if possible. 

We delivered a new handbook to the cottage. In all the whole process necessitated five additional trips (80 miles additional travel) to the cottage to complete all of the work.

The broken door lock
Damage to the rear door

Halfway through emptying the waste bins

Four large bags of rubbish to go
A kitchen cupboard left in disarray

A clot of dog hair and plastic razor cover removed from shower drain

A pair of new curtains, one pair in lounge, one pair in bedroom
We don't know who damaged the door lock, it may have been a break-in attempt while the guests were staying. However the problem was obvious when you tried to use a key in the lock and those guests didn't bother to report the problem before they left. We were lucky to be able to fix the problem within time. We're sending the lock back to the manufacturers for a diagnostic report.  It was not a fair use failure. As the front and back door locks were "keyed alike" we may have to replace the front door lock too.

After two washes, the four bed pillows have not lost the smoker's taint and may need to have replacements purchased.

After six years of operating the holiday home, Ignoring the capital cost (and lost notional interest) of the building, we've yet to break-even in terms cost vs income. Even though we run it as a business we don't take any payment for the maintenance/cleaning hours that we spend on preparing the place ready for the next guests. When compared with putting the same original  investment into an ISA fund, we would have been about £30,000 better off if we'd not entered into the holiday cottage business. The ISA fund investment route would have not involved any unpaid labour on our part.

The present booking rate for February, after deduction of agency fees is £183.20 for a week for two people and one pet. By the way we have to pay VAT on that fee, so £146 is more realistic.  The local Premier Inn rate for a room, not a whole house house, is £350 for 6 nights and doesn't allow pets.

Edit: 15th March

The curtains returned from the Dry Cleaners; the bill was £48.55

Edit 17th June

Further consequential cleaning:

  • Professional carpet cleaning to remove lingering smells £75 (plus three day outage);
  • Redecorate to remove residual smell from paint work, this work was due under general maintenance, but was accelerated because of the odour.
Edit 5/8/2020

During the cleaning process we've noticed these guest had also wet the bed, staining the 9 month old mattress with urine. They had not reported this.

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