Creating a short-term rental agreement for your vacation rental

What to consider when writing a vacation rental contract

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There are many ways to protect your vacation home. Screen guests, use smart locks, and get supplemental vacation rental insurance, to name a few. 

However, there’s one crucial safeguard that many homeowners tend to skip—having a short-term rental agreement (also known as a vacation rental contract). Many booking channels, such as Airbnb and Vrbo, already have their own rental agreements used for every reservation on their platform. However, a short-term rental agreement that addresses your specific property can help fill in the gaps to minimize risk. And, it can possibly serve as a layer of protection for both you and your guests in case of any disputes or discrepancies. 

Important note: Work with an attorney to compose all of your rental terms in the correct legal language and to ensure you’re following all city, county, and state laws around short-term rentals.

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What is a short-term rental agreement?

Simply put, a vacation rental agreement spells out the rules for your guests and any penalties for breaking them. Popular platforms like Airbnb and Vrbo have their own rental agreements that every guest must adhere to, but also allow homeowners to upload or link to their own supplemental terms that potential guests can review before booking. Plus, both channels let you provide any house rules on top of that. 

Rental agreements are usually 2 to 3 pages long and also include the terms and conditions of every booking. At Vacasa, we ask guests to read and sign a short-term rental agreement specific to the property. We also have standard rental terms for all our vacation homes. Guests can review them in their reservation summary online or on our mobile app.

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“A short-term rental agreement that addresses your specific property can help fill in the gaps to minimize risk.”

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What’s included in a short-term rental agreement

Here are terms that are often covered in a short-term rental agreement, along with best practices. Since every vacation home is different, work with your attorney so your agreement speaks directly to your property.

1. Names of all rental parties

If possible, avoid having metal parts on your home’s exterior (such as stair railings, outdoor lights, and window frames). The salt and sea air band together to make metal rust. Look for alternative materials, such as fiberglass frames for your windows and doors. Or, opt for stainless steel, aluminum, or powder coated metal. While they’re not impervious to rust, they’ll hold up a lot longer. If you already have non-resistant metal parts, paint over them to offer another shield against the elements.

2. Maximum occupancy

This details how many people and pets the vacation rental can accommodate. It can also be a safeguard against guests who claim they’re bringing 4 people, when in fact there are 4 adults and 2 children. Oftentimes, the occupancy also applies to visitors to the property, to dissuade guests from throwing a party.

3. Rental period

This includes the arrival and departure dates. If these dates are adjusted (say, if a guest wants to stay longer), they can sign an updated rental agreement.

family sitting on couch watching TV

4. Check-in and check-out times

When can guests arrive and when do they have to depart? This term can also explain if early check-ins or late check-outs are allowed, plus any fees that guests will have to pay if they fail to check out on time.

5. Vacation rental property details

Rental agreements typically include a list of amenities provided in the rental property, from towels to a toaster, smart speakers to a hot tub. This can help hold guests accountable should anything go missing or need repair.

6. Rate, extra fees, and payment terms

Anything related to payment is usually outlined, including the nightly rental rate, payment due dates, a security deposit, cleaning fees, or pet fees.

7. House rules

This can include stipulations such as “no pets” or “no smoking.” Rental agreements should  reference HOA regulations or local ordinances guests have to follow, such as “no glass allowed in the pool area” or quiet hours.

two dogs lay on a Pendleton dog bed in a vacation home

8. Cleaning

Homeowners can outline how they’d like guests to leave the vacation rental before check-out. This can include asking them to take out the trash, strip sheets off the bed, and put dishes in the dishwasher. You could also explain what deeper vacation rental cleaning is included in your cleaning fee.

9. Maintenance

Let guests know what to do if there’s a vacation rental maintenance issue, and how you plan to respond. Let them know you’ll answer quickly if they contact you through the proper channels.

10. Homeowner access

There are several reasons a homeowner (or a maintenance vendor) may have to access the vacation rental during a guest’s stay. Short-term rental agreements outline how and why owners will give guests notice to enter the property, so there are no complaints or surprises.

11. Parking

Contracts usually indicate if parking spots are available and if so, how many. If no parking spaces are available, suggest other parking options nearby.

vacation cabin with views of the blue ridge mountains in georgia

12. Keys

This tells guests how to access keys or get into the property, whether there’s a lockbox, smart lock, or physical key that guests need to pick up from another location.

13. Fraudulent bookings

Someone underage claims to be 25. A guest invites 15 friends to a house meant for 6 people. A booking is made under a false name. These things can happen. You can work with your attorney to include the consequences of booking under false pretenses.

14. Cancellations

Cancellation policies typically explain how guests can cancel their reservation and how far in advance they need to do so to receive a full refund. Plus, they include the circumstances that will prompt the homeowner to cancel a guest’s stay and if there are any refunds involved.

15. Terms specific to your vacation rental property

Rental agreements are not one-size-fits-all. What works at a beach house won’t protect another homeowner’s mountain cabin. Terms and conditions that are specific to your property and its destination are usually included. Contracts can also be used to alert guests to any spaces that are off-limits, such a personal closet or the garage.




A short-term rental agreement can help ensure guests respect your property as much as you do. Work with an attorney and use these best practices to write one specific to your vacation home. Agreements are living documents, so you can revise yours to reflect any changes in your amenities, house rules, local or state laws, and more.

Vacation rental agreement FAQ

Vrbo doesn’t require you to have a vacation rental agreement, but they make it easy for you to upload one to their site as part of your profile. They also ask that you disclose your rental agreement before guests book and encourage you to also set your house rules directly on their channel.

Some common terms written in a vacation rental agreement include:

1. House rules
These rules specify what isn’t allowed at your property, such as smoking, using the pool after a certain hour, or pets.

2. Rate, fees, and payment terms
This can include the nightly rate, any additional fees (such as a cleaning fee), and when you expect full payment.

3. Cancellations
Outline how far in advance guests need to cancel if they’d like a full refund and under what circumstances you’ll cancel the booking yourself.

4. Check-in and check-out
Includes times for arrival and departure, plus any fees associated with staying past the check-out time.

5. Cleaning
This tells guests what to take care of before they check out (put dishes in the dishwasher, run a load of laundry, strip the beds, etc.).

The main difference between a rental agreement and a lease is the period of time they cover. Rental agreements usually apply to short-term stays—such as 30 days—and are used regularly in the vacation rental industry. Meanwhile, a lease tends to cover longer periods—like a year—and is used most often between a landlord and a residential tenant. 

Learn about long-term vs. short-term rentals >

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Vacasa offers property management and other real estate services directly through Vacasa LLC and through Vacasa LLC's licensed subsidiaries. Click here for more information about Vacasa's licensed real estate brokerage/property manager in your state. Vacasa’s licensed real estate brokerages/property managers include: Vacasa Alabama LLC; Vacasa Arizona LLC; Vacasa Colorado LLC; Vacasa Delaware LLC, 302-541-8999; Vacasa Florida LLC; Vacasa Louisiana LLC, Dana MacCord, Principal Broker, ph 504.252.0155 (Licensed in LA); Vacasa Michigan LLC, 947-800-5979; Vacasa Missouri LLC, Susan Scanlon, Designated Broker; Vacasa Nevada LLC; Vacasa New Hampshire LLC, P.O. Box 283, Conway NH 03818, Dave Grant, Broker of Record; Vacasa New Mexico LLC, 503-345-9399; Vacasa New York LLC, 888-433-0068, Susan E. Scanlon, Real Estate Broker; Vacasa North Carolina LLC; Vacasa Pennsylvania LLC; Vacasa Real Estate Corporation, California DRE #02105811, Joseph Czapkowicz, California DRE #01380722; Vacation Palm Springs Real Estate, Inc., California DRE #01523013, Joseph Czapkowicz, California DRE #01380722; Vacasa Real Estate LLC (licensed in Colorado, Daned Kirkham); Vacasa Real Estate LLC (licensed in Idaho, Oregon, and Utah); Vacasa Real Estate LLC (licensed in Maine, Michael McNaboe, Designated Broker); Vacasa Real Estate LLC (licensed in Texas, Debra Brock, Designated Broker); Vacasa Real Estate LLC (licensed in Washington, Robert Brush, Designated Broker); Vacasa Seasonals Inc., California DRE #02160171, Daned Kirkham, California DRE #01424621; Vacasa South Carolina LLC; Vacasa Tennessee LLC; Vacasa Vacation Rentals of Hawaii LLC, 3350 Lower Honoapiilani Road, Suite 600, Lahaina, HI 96761; Vacasa Vacation Rentals of Montana LLC, Cameron Bree James, Licensed Property Manager; Vacasa Virginia LLC; Vacasa Wisconsin LLC; Vacasa Wyoming LLC. In Canada, this advertisement is provided by Vacasa Canada ULC, CPBC lic. number 75826, 172 Asher Rd. V1X 3H6 Kelowna, BC.