Not every vacation rental owner has a tale to share about The Nightmare Guest – but plenty do. While most guests come and go with few if any issues, owners occasionally find themselves facing some level of destruction or disruption.

Bad situations don’t need to be monumental, either. Finding out someone was puffing away in your non-smoking house, or that Fluffy made a mess on the carpet that nobody mentioned, can just as easily raise your expenses and blood pressure.

Even if you’ve never had a problem, building more hands-on customer service into your management process can help stave off problems in future and create a more positive experience for great guests who are excited to visit.

Screen your renters

Taking time to screen potential renters – discussing their inquiry on the phone before confirming, watching for red flags, even doing a search for their name – can tell you a lot about a potential guest and either raise your suspicions or build a stronger positive rapport.

This can be particularly important if you ever have had a bad rental experience: you’ll have a better sense of what to watch out for, and connecting to a real person can help put both of you and your guest at ease.

Set expectations up front

When you do connect with a potential guest, review the policies and procedures for your rental and ask about any special accommodations they might need. Are they travelling with pets? Are they travelling with a larger group? Are there any additional fees that they might be responsible for?

Take time to review your policies from time to time, too. For example, it’s not unusual for properties to have pet, smoking, age or size (of party) restrictions; if you consistently have problems with guests, you may want to revise your guidelines.

Also, keep in mind that your potential guest may not have rented a vacation property before. Reviewing things like security deposits, payment deadlines and amenities that you may or may not provide can help prevent confusion and confrontation.

Get in touch on arrival

Whether by phone, email or in person, find a way to connect with your guests shortly after their arrival.

This is the ideal time to ask:

  • Does everything meet their expectations?
  • Are they missing anything?
  • Do they have any questions?

If everything is fine, this will be a quick conversation. But it’s also an opportunity to catch any potential issues before they become a problem.

It’s also a good time to remind your guests who they should call in case of a problem, and the best way to get in touch. As noted below, the best scenario is to have someone nearby who can meet your guests in person and be available during their stay.

Have someone on-call who lives nearby

In some regions, you are required to have someone nearby; in Maui, for example, an owner or designate must be available to be at the vacation rental within an hour, if needed.

If not required by law, however, it’s still a good idea to have someone on-hand if you’re not in the area. “Renter out thousands after online vacation rental goes wrong,” about a Canadian couple who locked themselves out of a rental in Paris, is one headline you don’t want your rental to be connected to. Even if you would argue that it was the renter’s fault, it’s still a stressful situation with clearly unhappy guests – and if there’d been a local contact, it could have been little more than a quickly-resolved inconvenience.

There is no guarantee that nothing will ever go wrong; accidents happen to the best guests, and there are negligent travelers out there. However, good communication and relationship building can go a long way towards providing smooth sailing for everyone involved.