Over Capacity Rule Breakers

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InnTheWoods's picture
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Hi Folks, 

I'm sure this question has come up many times before but since I'm a new kid, I'm asking.  I've been running my seasonal cottage rentals for many years - my dad started it in 1990 after having a boy's camp here since 1956.  Almost all of our guests come back every year, some for over 25 years. Every year there are one or two families who try to challenge my house occupancy limits. I limit occupancy to the number of beds in each of my five houses. Same reasons as many of you - I don't want my common areas overcrowded, I don't want excessive wear on the houses (one family already broke a chair this week because they are overcrowded, and not telling me) plus, I have very old septic systems and am constantly paranoid about them failing (does anyone else have this crazy worry?!).  

This year has been horrible - it seems that it's been my year to be tested by people challenging the rules. I'm not sure if they think that I'm just so easygoing after all these years that I 'won't mind'  but I've told them what the rules are, and this week again I have a family (who I love) overcrowding their house.  I think their excuse will be that they have two adult kids outside in a tent). 

 

What do you all do about this? I know it's a hot button issue for me so I automatically react badly. Should I give in? Allow one or two extra people for a per head charge per night?  Should I be firm in my rules?  I just don't know but I'm totally frustrated from dealing with this issue this year!  I either need to tighten up the rules, or give in. ACCKKKK

 

Thanks for any input!  

seashanty's picture
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Oh ... septic!  is it rustic enough to have composting toilets? I know nothing about these but I do understand an aging septic system. Guests don't understand why they can't just bring more people since they've rented a cabin. you have to explain the why to whomever makes the reservation. And i'm sorry to suggest that you need a plan to expand your system. 

let us know what happens 

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Morticia's picture
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Somewhat related to how you are feeling - we knew we would run into difficulties taking over from another owner. We just didn't realize the guests would be so in our faces. It was a bit ugly at times sticking to the policies that were comfortable for us but uncomfortable to the guests who had 'trained' the previous owners to shut up and leave the guests to do what they wanted.

That included using the kitchen, demanding certain foods, getting their cars washed by the owner (I'm not joking).

It was hard the first two years until we cleared out the guests who didn't like the new rules. Plenty of others took their place who were perfectly ok with how we run the joint. We even got some back who had been tired of the nonsense.

So, if part of it is fear you'll lose business, you will. But, the other guests who see you stand up for yourself and for them, will appreciate their stay. People don't like uncertainty. They like to know there are rules and everyone has to follow them.

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gillumhouse's picture
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I just visited my friend who lives at a lake campground 6 months of the year - they have a trailer set up there. I have to pay a $4 fee just to go in to visit her. If staying the night in her triler, it is $8 (2-day fee). They have a gate system - you pay and the gate goes up and there is a gate on the exit side also but I do not know what makes it go up.

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Is there any way to make this a business op? ie offer camping at a cost and build a small toilet block? but they must use that not the cabin one? ie charge for extra campers and it will pay for itself? composting toilet needs no water for example might take a bit of strain off, gas heated shower and water feeds the toilet - just thinking outside the box.

Baygirl's picture
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We have 2 off site houses and what we do is have the guests sign a contract as well as pay a $500 sec deposit.  It states in our contract if they go over the limit on amount of people at the houses they will be asked to leave with no refunds, including the security deposit. This is our second year doing this and it has worked perfectly.  

5 is the max we allow.  Over that it's too much for the septic system, well and wear and tear of the property.  

 

 

InnTheWoods's picture
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Thank you Baygirl - this is exactly my problem. My septic systems are old, plus, I have few rules and am sick of people trying to break this one. I've never had to do a rental agreement or security deposit because almost all my guests have been coming for well over a decade but, I'm working on one now. I guess times need to change because people just seem to think breaking the rules is perfectly ok. 

Morticia's picture
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Everyone I know here in town has faced that issues this summer. We just had a family show up when the room was reserved for two. There is a two guest maximum in the room. We are limited by the state (same state as you) to a maximum of 16 guests. Over that and we become a hotel, with hotel rules.

We told the family to leave.

Others have been able to squeeze in the extra guests. You cannot. Sleeping in tents but using the bathroom in one cabin is not good. The more you allow the more the guests will push.

It's the hardest thing you'll do this year, but you have to. You need to regain your sanity and your equilibrium. Tell the trespassers, as they leave, you will not be able to accommodate all the extra people next year. You are sure they understand it is unfair to all the other guests who took two cabins to see your family pitching tents and essentially getting a free vacation for half the family.

Say you will be happy to reserve their 2 or 3 cabins right now for next year. But, you will ask them to leave, with no refunds, next year if they show up with more guests than are allowed.

Once you've told one family, the next one is easier. Not easy. But easier.

You have to protect your investment.

If they are able to sneak extra guests in, you may want to figure out how that is happening. Do you greet them and take them to the cabins? Do they stop to pick up a key? Perhaps you need a different system that puts you right at the car when they drive up. Maybe a booth right at the road? I know that's a lot of work, but so would be digging up the septic on a hot August day.

InnTheWoods's picture
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Thank you Morticia (i love your name!)  - I've gotten the idea from other contracts I've reviewed that I will start making people list the exact guests who will be with them on the rental agreement.  I'm going to have to confront the guests today because as I watched them yesterday, I'm almost positive they have extra people.  Almost every who stays here is 'like family' because they have been coming for so long and I think that's part of the problem - they just seem to think they can take advantage and I 'won't mind'.  Unfortunately, they have no clue how much i DO MIND relative to this issue.  It's infuriating. 

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I think you also need to explain to the "lead" guest about the septic system and say look it can only handle X people - any more and it could potentially break leading to very expensive repairs. People think you are being fussy they need to know there is a consequence.

gillumhouse's picture
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The problem is that they will not care how much it will cost her to fix the septic unless she says very expensive repairs which will significantly affect the rates we have to charge you.

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I would be saying and "that will be £10,000" please be aware - very expensive means nothing to some people (as a context) you have to give them a hard terrifying figure!

Generic's picture
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I don't think that will work.... they don't understand the words "very expensive". They do understand... $10K if you break the septic system by overuse.

But I do agree with JCam, maybe it's time to look at a composting toilet to supplement the system. Uses a lot less water as well.

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JimBoone's picture
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InnTheWoods wrote:

Unfortunately, they have no clue how much i DO MIND relative to this issue.  It's infuriating. 

The hard part is that when you get this all worked out, then next year it will be a whole different issue and we have to start over again.

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On the Shore is spot on, given the age of the property, the sewage treatment is of main concern.  

I would definitely speak with each of them that are 'over the limit' and state that you will no longer tolerate having more than the maximum capacity listed in any of the cottages, tents or otherwise so if they decide to reserve next year they will need to rent X number of cottages.  

Update your website & all advertising to include the Max # of guests and those attempting to go over the max will be charged $$$ fee in addition to the regular rental fee and will be forced to leave the property.   -  And no tents!    

 

Generic's picture
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You may want to post a over capacity fee. For example...

You have reserved for 3 people.
The maximum capacity of your cabin is 4 people.
The extra charge (prepaid) for an extra person is $10 per night.
The extra charge (postpaid) for an extra person is $20 per night.
The extra charge (postpaid) for anyone over the 4 people is $200 per night.

Or version 2...

You have reserved for 3 people.
The maximum capacity of your cabin is 4 people.
The extra charge (prepaid) for an extra person is $10 per night.
Any person not listed on the reservation found on the property will be reported to the police for trespass. You will be escorted off the property, with no refund. 

OnTheShore's picture
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The problem with an over-capacity fee is that it implicitly says too many people is OK (i.e., you don't have a hard limit), it'll just cost a bit more. 

If you really do have a hard limit, you have to enforce it -- if not in the immediate moment, then at least in the future by not letting them return.

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InnTheWoods's picture
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exactly, i've seen that many places have an over capacity fee but that just encourages people to think it's perfectly fine to bring more. I am thinking that next year I might allow one extra person in the bigger cabins, but the cost will be a good amount per night to discourage it. I just can't believe what a problem this has decided to be this summer. 

Generic's picture
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See, in my mind, I would rather not argue, just set a fee that makes it financially impractical. At $100 PER NIGHT, I just don't think there are that many people who will take you up on the offer. But if they do, increase the fee to $200. At least over time you will bank the money for the septic system.

Or, set a hard limit, warning them that they will be refused and will still have to pay.

I hate arguing with people. I hit them in the wallet. 

InnTheWoods's picture
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exactly what i'm leaning towards!  but what i am going to do first is start using a rental agreement (which I haven't had to do before - I do have a liability waiver) in which they have to list each member of their party.  THAT's IT!

 

 

 

 

gillumhouse's picture
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I do not think $10 per is enough for extra person. $25 if pre-paid, $50 if on arrival

Arks's picture
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gillumhouse wrote:

I do not think $10 per is enough for extra person. $25 if pre-paid, $50 if on arrival

$10 would barely cover breakfast. I charge $12/extra person WITHOUT breakfast.

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OnTheShore's picture
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The septic system issue is a big one. I don't know how your system is set up, but I'll assume you have one big disposal field that handles all of your cottages. If that is the case, then overloading of one cotttage may not matter if the other cottages are "underloaded" -- the capacity of your system is designed around the total number of individuals that it could potentially be serving (ultimately determining a volume of water in gallons per day). So if you have a water meter, you can keep track of your total consumption on a weekly basis over the course of the summer and see how you are doing compared to the design capacity of your waste water disposal system. You can also use the water meter to check your distribution system for leaks when opening up for the season -- after charging all the pipes and everything, if there is no one in any of the cottages, then any water flow indicated by the meter is the result of a leak. Also, you may be able to cut down on water use by making sure that all your toilets, shower heads, and sink aerators are all up to current "code" (toilets at or less than 1.6 gpf, showerheads at or less than 2.5 gpm, etc...). All of this might help alleviate some concern about the load on your septic system.

If you are not exceeding your overall capacity, even if one cottage might be overloaded, the next issue would be the one Jim raises -- demands for extra pillows, sheets, towels, etc... Just say no.

I say be firm with your limits, but the time to be firm is when the guests are making their reservations -- be sure that all your advertising, and all of your confirmation information, really all of your communications, are clear about the capacity limits of the respective cottages. Once the guests have arrived with extras in tow, yeah you could be hard-nosed about it and kick them out. But that is indeed hard to do, especially if you like to avoid conflict. So if you are not over your total capacity, it might be easier to let them know that they have transgressed, but to let them stay -- for now -- be sure to let them know that they are not invited back next year (unless they rent an additional cottage for their overload).

Ultimately I think the solution to these problems is to raise your rates (especially if you are fully booked for the peak season). If your rates are relatively low, you may be attracting bargain hunters who will push the limits even further -- the over-crowders are looking for an extra bargain.

I know it's hard to jump the rates up when you have a lot of returning guests. One approach is to give returning guests the current year's rate (or a lower increase) IF they make their reservation for the next year before a given deadline; all reservations from new guests, or returning guests who missed the deadline would be subject to the new higher rate. In other words, returning guests who meet the deadline are a year behind on the rate increases....

Edited again to add yet another thought: I would make sure that you are setting your rates based on an assumption of full occupancy -- if the cottage can sleep six, set your rate assuming you'll be housing six people there, and charge that same rate regardless of whether there are 6 or just 2. I think it is counterproductive, especially in your situation with people overloading their cottages, to set a rate based on double-occupancy with a per-person upcharge beyond the first two (unless you are feeding everyone, too, then per-person charges might make sense).

InnTheWoods's picture
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Thank you, and yes, I do all of those things. My rates are set based on the entire cabin not per person.  I will be raising rates next year because my father (who recently passed away at 91) and I have always run this place for the please of it, but now I have to get more serious - obviously with rules as well. 

 

And my worst worry is that all five cabins do have their own, very old, septic systems.  So if one goes, the entire house is out of commission and perhaps very costly to fix. 

 

I appreciate everyone's understand of this problem. When I try to explain it to people they look at me like I'm nuts.  Thank you all! 

JimBoone's picture
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People tend to think that if the rate is for the cabin, then they can cram in any number of people, I try to state my rooms as (two queen beds, up to 4 persons). If there is to be an extra charge then it might be rate doubles if over 4 persons, just to be clear that you don't want extras.

JimBoone's picture
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I suppose every situation is different. but I look at our guest rooms the same way, if it sleeps 4, then the price is based on 4 people and that's my limit. Now I may not mind so much if an extra is a toddler that would sleep with parents anyway, but when older then come the requests for extra pillows, blankets and such that would be built into the cost of a larger room. Some folks push my hot button too. Worse for you as many of mine are just overnight visitors while you have the problem for an extended period, I don't suppose those camping outside are going to "hold it" all week or drive to the nearest public facility.

I don't think you can afford to "give in" as that is putting the rule breakers in charge and soon your nice folks will stay elsewhere and your quality of life will decline. Now exactly how you police the problem is a more difficult question, rule breakers tend to ignore rules or aren't bothered by a small upcharge, your upcharge needs to be large if the extra folks are going to cause you to need to replace the septic system

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