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Honoring promises to past tenants without losing new prospects

Written by Elizabeth Weedon
4.8/5 - (40 votes)

new-vs-repeatEvery year, vacation rental homeowners hope that a few of our past tenants will choose to return to our homes the next season: they obviously are a great fit and love the home, and we can trust that they will be responsible tenants.  But how do you deal with a return tenant? Do you charge them the same rate, even if you have raised it for next season? Do you insist on a lease and security deposit again? How long do you give a past tenant before you require a commitment from them to reserve a specific week, what’s more send you a deposit?

Rental payment timing and amounts: Many of our homeowners generously reserve stays for their past tenants with no commitment requirement until January. But can you afford to turn down prospective vacationers who might inquire in the meantime?

We recommend that you extend to your past tenants a right of first refusal policy soon after they express an interest to return. Explain that you will tentatively hold the week for them but only until you receive an inquiry for the same week. At that point, you will notify them and insist that they commit to the week with a signed lease and deposit within a day or two.

And if they want you to reserve the week, they should be willing to give you a deposit. You could suggest half of the week’s rent up front and the remainder 1 to 3 months prior to their arrival. Or you could suggest a smaller, up-front deposit, perhaps 20%-30%, then another deposit in January/February, and the final payment 1 to 3 months prior to their arrival. Read more about pricing and payment schedules.

Pricing: It’s advisable to reward past tenants with a bit of a discount, but don’t feel that you have to honor the same price you asked 5 years ago! We usually suggest that you offer the rate that you asked before your last increase. In other words, if you charged them $2,000/wk for this past season, let them know that you will reserve a week for them and charge them the same rate despite the rate increase for others.

Lease: We encourage our homeowners to insist on a lease even for past tenants. Sure, you may have had a great experience with them last season, or even for the past few years, but things can always change. It’s just safer, more professional, and of benefit to both parties to use a lease. It costs you nothing and takes very little time for you to prepare one – why not protect yourself?

Security deposit: Although not as important as a lease, it is a good idea to continue to require a security deposit – regardless of the way your past tenant left your home the last time. Again, things change, and it doesn’t hurt to have that added incentive for your tenants to continue to respect and care for your home.

For those of you who use our website’s email marketing feature to contact past tenants, consider editing the template you use for it to convey your policy regarding return tenants.

Do you have any other tips for dealing with past tenants while still seeking new ones?

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About the author

Elizabeth Weedon

Elizabeth Weedon - Although I’ve worked for since 2008, I’ve been a loyal homeowner on the site since early 1998, just a few months after the website was launched by the Talmadges. I grew up summering on the Vineyard and managed my family's rental home there since the mid-1980’s. I’m passionately devoted to the Vineyard – and to WeNeedaVacation, which I credit with enabling me to hold onto the special property that has been in our family for nearly a century. An enthusiastic member of the WNAV Homeowner Support Team, I endeavor to keep my finger on the pulse of the Cape and Islands vacation rental industry so that I can provide homeowners advice about how to ensure their booking success with us. With owner Joan Talmadge, I am also responsible for editing and writing much of the text on our website, our monthly newsletters, and Homeowner Blog posts.


  • I have a family who has been renting my house for 12 years. Our joke is their kids will be reading the will someday and ask “who gets the Cape house”?
    They send in the next years week right after the summer. They pay the same rate and the same deposit as anyone else. I only increase the rent every few years. And of course they pay a security deposit and sign the lease. No reason to skip that! I have other families that are on their 3 or 4th years. I always tell them to book asap so they can get the best weeks. Snooze you loose.

    • Ha! That’s one of my favorite sayings! And it’s so true. I am very glad to hear you continue to use a lease and request a security deposit. Because the one time you don’t, as the saying goes… 🙂 Best, Shannon

  • I have 3 repeat tenants booked for 2014. 2 are from this past summer, and 1 from 3 summers ago.The one from 3 summers ago, was disappointed that the weeks that he was interested in were both booked by the time he contacted me for the past 2 years. This year, I heard from him in October. He’s booked. I asked for the signed lease and the security deposit, with the 1st of 3 payments due in January. We’ll see how that goes. I divide my payments into 3. The first with the signing of the lease, the 3rd, 30 days before arrival, and the 2nd 1/2 way between. That has worked for us. I also had an inquiry from a tenant with a group of “girls” who rented 2 summers ago, this morning. They are returning ! For them, I’m expecting the 1/3 with the lease, because of timing. January will be here before we know it. I also haven’t increased my rates for 2 summers. I offer returners,a 10% reduction. Repeat tenants have relieved my anxiety about making sure that we understand each other. They also appreciate knowing the property, and seeing what’s new at my house.

    • Thank you, Kathryn! How right you are regarding the lessened stress of renting to repeat tenants. Looks like you have a few. As always, we appreciate your sharing with other homeowners your experiences, your payment schedules, and the best practices that have worked for you in your vacation rental business. Best, Shannon