Vacation Rental Nightmares & How to Avoid Them

This post was written for Tripping by Volo.

There are a lot of vacation rental horror stories online: from guests refusing to leave, to being sued for an accident, or even nasty reviews. Although I’ve personally never experienced a circumstance needing legal intervention (knock on wood), there have been a handful of instances over the years where I was happy to have a solid plan of protection in place.

Legalities are important, and they’re something I cannot adequately speak to. Max Neuhaus, a real estate attorney, has chimed in with some advice to help you properly start your vacation rental business:


Consumers that are “guests” subject to vacation rentals are typically going to have more legal rights than consumers that are subject to other kinds of rentals, such as car rentals or commercial real estate rentals. The only way to be sure your rental contract is protecting you to the fullest is to consult with an attorney licensed in the jurisdiction where your vacation rental is located.

I always advise my business clients as follows: “I know the law, you know the industry. Tell me what you want, and I’ll tell you if it’s legal.” So let’s take some specific vacation rental issues below and see what the law has to say.


First, make sure your lease specifically spells out in easy-to-understand terms what the consequences will be. Consider a provision in your contract that includes a promise that you will call the authorities to have the guest forcibly removed. It is likely that enforcement will consider a guest that has overstayed their welcome an illegal trespasser, and the authorities will forcibly remove them.

That said, be careful that you are not advertising your vacation rental as “residential housing.” If you do so, the trespassing guest may be able to convince the authorities that they are actually tenants. In most cases, a tenant can only be removed by legal eviction, which could mean weeks if not months before the guest would be required to leave.

From Kris: I’ve never personally met someone who this has happened to. Don’t let the thought scare you from starting a vacation rental business. Do consider a provision, as Max suggested, so you are protected from an anomaly.

If you have personally had a guest refuse to leave, I’d be interested to hear the situation and how you resolved the issue in the comment section below!



Make sure your contract clearly states the circumstances where a guest is and is not entitled to a refund. Be careful when you use the word “guarantee” in your advertising. The difference between “you’ll love seeing the whales” and “we guarantee you’ll see whales” is the difference between good advertising (the first) and a legally enforceable promise you are guaranteeing as the owner (the second).

When guests are not entitled to a refund due to unforeseen circumstances, this is called a “force majeure.” It’s a French phrase adopted in American law that literally means “superior force.” If, for example, the municipal water plant has an emergency shut down causing you to close your vacation rental, it will be likely that a displaced guest will not be legally entitled to a refund. Granting a refund would, of course, still be a voluntary option for the owner.

From Kris: My personal contracts are pretty buttoned up to protect me. However, I do objectively look at each situation to determine if I should give a refund.

A guest once booked one of my homes for two weeks in the off-season at a very reasonable rate. Unbeknownst to me, the neighbor had planned a full exterior remodel and landscape project at the same time.

Needless to say, there was a lot of dust, noise, and commotion that irritated the heck out of my guest. Although she didn’t ask to be released from her reservation (nor was I legally liable to release her), I offered it and refunded her payment on a prorated basis. I couldn’t take the thought of getting another phone call from her without being able to remedy the situation. I just don’t want anyone to be miserable at my property.

A different scenario: Some guests’ business plans changed, they cancelled their reservation four days prior to arrival and asked for a refund. Of course, I also had no obligation to refund them but offered to accept last-minute bookings and refund IF rebooked. It didn’t get rebooked, and I did not refund. After all, this was peak season and I was running a business. They understood and appreciated my efforts.

Both guests mentioned above have referred their friends and returned themselves.

It goes without saying that there are people who you just cannot please, even if you have gone above and beyond. Don’t let the fear of a negative review push you into refunding when it’s not necessary.


As a general rule, the larger the population base of the area in which your vacation rental is located, the more likely there are to be additional county and or city regulations you will have to follow. Additionally, you should verify if there are any environmental regulations you should be aware of by contacting your local United States Department of Agriculture office as well as your local Department of Natural Resources office.

Kentucky Capitol

From Kris: The most common regulations I come across are the need for a business license and charging a transient sales tax. Many owners think that if their vacation home is personally used for a portion of the year that they do not need to do either. However, that is often far from true. In many instances, if the vacation home is rented out for more than a mere 14 nights per year, a license and applicable taxes are required. This is a great time to loop in your accountant for a personalized approach and set up a separate business checking account. (More on that in the next post!)


A rental owner’s first line of defense against liability is almost always going to be to insure against the loss. How you calculate your risk is typically a conversation you have with your insurance agent outside of the counsel of your attorney.

The second most common form of liability protection is for the owner to transfer their interest in the subject real estate into a business entity that is owned by the owner, and with that, modifying all contracts accordingly. In doing so the liability of loss falls on the business and is limited to the assets of the business.

From Kris: There can be tax benefits and consequences to putting your vacation home into an LLC (business entity referenced above), depending on your situation. It doesn’t hurt to consult an accountant before doing this.

Max Neuhaus is a business, family and real estate attorney practicing in western Wisconsin, and has served as corporate council for a number of realtors, real estate companies and real estate managers over the years. You can contact Max by visiting him and his law firm at

Trademarks 101: Your 10 Biggest Questions, Answered


The below article was written by Nellie Akalp for Mashable.  A lot of good things to know below regardless if you are starting an Inn, Resort or any other type business… so I wanted to share. Thanks for the great article!


For a startup, intellectual property is often the most valuable asset. Yet, IP isn’t just about patents and inventions. It can also include your brand assets — everything from the company name to the logo and product tagline.

Trademarks help keep your brand ID safe, with the idea that no one else in the market can come in and use your brand or trademark for a similar thing. But how much do you understand about the trademark process? Here are the answers to 10 of the most frequently asked questions surrounding trademarks:

1. If I trademark my company/product name, does that mean nobody else can use it?

The main purpose of a trademark is to prevent confusion in the marketplace, ensuring that consumers will know who is behind a certain product or service. That’s why trademark protection only applies to a particular category of goods and services. Nike Inc. owns the mark on a variety of shoes, clothing, sporting goods, etc. But there’s also a Nike Corporation that’s involved in hydraulic lifting jacks and other heavy machinery. There’s really no risk of a consumer confusing those two companies.

2. What’s the difference between a trademark and registering with the state?

When you incorporate, form an LLC, or submit a DBA (Doing Business As) for your business, you are essentially registering your business name with the state. This prevents anyone else from registering a similar name for a similar business type in your state. The key difference is that this act does not offer any kind of protection in the 49 other states; that’s where federal trademark protection comes in.

3. When is the right time to trademark our company name?

You should lock up trademark rights for your company or product name as soon as possible by submitting an intent-to-use trademark application. This ensures that your brand is protected once you begin commercial sales. In addition, a comprehensive trademark search usually accompanies the registration filing. This search will ensure that your mark is available and you aren’t accidentally infringing on someone else’s mark. You definitely don’t want to be on the wrong end of a trademark dispute.

4. How long does it take to get a trademark?

The registration process can take anywhere from nine months to several years, although most applications are completely processed within a year. The length often depends on the complexity of the mark and any conflicts or legal issues that arise while the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office examines your application. Once you file your paperwork, you are given a receipt and your filing date is marked. In terms of future trademark disputes, the earlier your filing date, the better.

5. What class should I choose?

When you apply for a trademark, you need to specify the particular goods or services that you are using your trademark with. There are 45 different classes to choose from. Software traditionally falls under Class 9 “Electrical and Scientific Apparatus.” The USPTO website provides a handy search feature to help you identify your class. For example, enter “beer” in the search field, and you’ll see that “beer” is class 32; Non-metal taps for beer kegs are class 20; and beer pumps are 7. If your mark is used on different products, you may need to file trademarks in multiple classes.

6. How long is a trademark good for? How long does a trademark last?

Trademarks today have a 10-year term. Once that term is up, you can renew a registration for another 10 years, and there’s no limit to how many times you renew the trademark. As long as you keep filing your renewals, along with your Declaration of Use forms, you can have a trademark as long as you’d like.

7. Should I register my company’s name or logo?

You can’t register your company name and logo in the same application, so many businesses will submit multiple filings — one for the company name, company logo, product name, product logo, etc. However, the reality is that many small businesses and bootstrapped startups are working with a limited budget and prefer to just register a single trademark.

If you can only do one trademark registration, you are probably best off registering your business name with a “standard character claim.” This means that your trademark broadly covers your name regardless of what font or stylistic elements are used (for example, no one could use your company name with a different font or lower case instead of upper case letters). But keep in mind this doesn’t offer protection for the design elements of your logo.

8. Can I trademark my name?

Yes, particularly people whose names are also their professions like actors or designers. If your name also identifies your business, you should consider trademarking your name.

Generally speaking, a personal name can be trademarked if it’s considered “distinctive”. The more common a name, the less likely your trademark application will be approved. But even an unusual name is no guarantee that you’ll be awarded a trademark; just ask Jay-Z and Beyoncé who have been struggling to trademark their baby daughter Blue Ivy’s name.

9. Can a trademark help me get a domain name?

Yes. Under the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection law, a trademark owner can sue for damages and recover a domain name when someone is squatting on a domain name that’s identical or similar to their trademark. For example, Morgan Freeman trademarked his name so he could take back the domain name To do this, you need to prove that the person has been using the domain name in bad faith (i.e. to make a profit off of your brand).

10. What happens if someone else uses my trademark?

If another company is in a different type of business than you, you may not have legal grounds to stop them from using your mark. As the owner of a trademark, you can stop someone else from using your mark when it’s being used on competing goods or services, and when consumers would be confused by their use of the trademark.

If you believe someone is infringing on your mark, an attorney will first send a cease and desist letter on your behalf, demanding the other user to stop using your mark. If that’s unsuccessful, you can file a lawsuit (most likely in federal court) to stop the use. In many cases, you can also sue for money damages from the user. In fact, legal recourse is the biggest advantage of registering your trademark.