Why your guests should be signing a rental agreement
While most reservations will go smoothly as planned, there may be times when you'll be asked to produce a signed Rental Agreement. Even hotels have you sign an agreement at check in, at the same time they ask for your ID and credit card. Agreements can be signed manually or digitally–and both methods are legally upheld in the courts.
Most owners allow guests to reserve dates by clicking "I agree" to their online sample contract, along with a partial or full payment amount. Then the reservation is officially confirmed, as soon as the signed agreement is returned.
Know Your Local Laws
If you aren't already familiar with your local laws, go ahead and start learning them now. A short term Rental Agreement will differ from a long term tenant lease. First, find out if a Rental Agreement is required for short term rentals in your area. Your local laws may require specific information to be included in the agreement.
For example, North Carolina is governed by the North Carolina Vacation Rental Act. This Act spells out owner obligations, guest protections, and what clauses must be included within the agreement. Regulations will vary among different states and jurisdictions.
If you ever need to sue a guest in court, or are named as the defendant in a lawsuit, the first thing the attorneys or judge will want to see is the Rental Agreement. If your insurance company becomes involved, they too will ask for this information and will review your agreement's clauses and disclaimers.
This is why it's highly recommended to have an attorney draft your agreement, as they can review your insurance policy and determine the types of language your agreement should contain.
Assuming you have the proper liability insurance, it's also important to speak with your insurance company to determine what required documents are needed if you ever need to file a claim. Will your insurance company pay out a "loss of income" claim based on past reservations printouts? Or will they require an actual signed agreement between you and the guest?
An attorney is well worth the cost–and a solid Rental Agreement along with the proper insurance, can actually dissuade potential lawsuits.
Credit Card Dispute
If one of your guests ever files a credit card chargeback, you may be asked to produce a legally signed Rental Agreement. Often times, credit card companies will not acknowledge a "click to accept" (checkbox) as a legitimate cardholder signature.
Additionally, you may be asked to prove the cardholder is the same person who signed the agreement. This is why it's a good idea to always ask for the cardholder's ID after booking.
The card companies also have specific policies of how the merchant (you) must present certain information to the cardholder. For example, they may require that the guest's initials or signature are close to the stated cancellation policy, and may not consider a single signature on the last page to be sufficient.
Depending on the chargeback person assigned to your case, the checkbox acknowledgement may be acceptable, but why take the chance?
Not only should local law and insurance requirements be considered, but the card companies' policies as well. Below are sample agreements that other Houfy members have given permission for anyone to use. Feel free to take parts from any or all, and customize your own.
Do not rely on any of these samples as "legal documents" that will meet all of your needs. It's also a good idea to take notes of applicable sections you like, and bring them to your attorney for review.