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What Happens When Your Kid Draws on the Furniture in a Vacation Rental

We’ve all heard the horror stories of rowdy guests trashing vacation rentals, but what happens when there’s just a little bit of damage?

Do you know what’s exciting in the worst way? Staring at a self-portrait drawn by a child in blue permanent marker on a piece of furniture. Here’s what to know about protecting your family when kids are being kids on vacation.

Picture This: A Picture-Perfect Rental

As with hotels, there are some vacation rental houses where the living spaces aren’t quite aren’t as good as the photos made them out to be during the booking process.

But that wasn’t the case with a home rental that we booked for our family vacation last July in Carmel, California. It was actually better than it looked in the pictures online.

A covered Spanish-tile walkway led to a light-filled two-bedroom house with a third bedroom above the garage and a pebbled courtyard in front. A large, open room combined the kitchen, dining, and living room areas with two picture windows and a wing-backed chair to swivel on while looking out the backyard. On the back deck, a long dining table and a sitting area allowed us to kick back at sunset and take in views of the Carmel Bay through a swath of salt marsh.

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I hashtagged my photos from this rental, #decorgoals. In fact, much of the decor was actually from IKEA (my sister-in-law who’s an interior designer verified this) but all of it was perfectly selected and arranged and included adorable light fixtures, circular mirrors, a giant marble kitchen island, fluffy blankets, and simple rugs. It was almost as if we were staying in a hotel villa and not a VRBO property. It was idyllic.

Until my 5-year-old let her inner artiste go wild on a fabric bench in the bedroom.

Vacation, Interrupted

The “crime” actually happened as we were racing around the house to pack up our belongings and head out. We also had a 1-year-old and a 7-year-old in the house with us, along with our niece and nephew who are in their early 20s.

On the way to the airport, the stressing continued. What do we tell the owner? Do we tell him anything at all? What would they charge us? Could we just Amazon them a new bench?

When our bags were finally packed and loaded, I did that “one last check” on all the rooms and when I checked the second bedroom where my nephew had been sleeping, I discovered the “victim.” I’m 90 percent sure that bench wasn’t much more than $100 but still, this wasn’t our house and I panicked.

My husband and I took turns grabbing products from under the kitchen sink and in the laundry room and scrubbing desperately at the (admittedly cute) blue stick figure. Eventually, we were able to get it down to a faded figure. But it was still there when we left the house.

As for the perpetrator, well, she had no good reason for why she did it, other than, “I wanted to.” #sorrynotsorry

On the way to the airport, the stressing continued. What do we tell the owner? Do we tell him anything at all? What would they charge us? Could we just Amazon them a new bench? As we drove along, I emailed the house owner from my phone. I explained, simply and honestly, that our child had drawn on one of the benches with a marker and that it had mostly come out, but if there was anything else we could do, to please let us know.

He wrote back saying that he would check it out. In the end, all we were charged was a cleaning fee, which would have been charged to us anyways as per the rental agreement. Phew. We had also paid for property damage protection from VRBO which is an insurance product that will cover accidental damages like this one during the stay.

Check Your Rental Agreement Before Your Child Wrecks Something

According to VRBO’s website, this plan will cover broken lamps, windows, electronics, doors, walls, furniture, stained bedding or linens, and replacement of keys. There are three different plans to choose from but for about $60, the plan will cover up to $1,500 worth of damage. And not only does it cover the destruction caused by kids, it will cover your pets too. (So long as the rental allows pets.)

Most properties also charge a security deposit, but having VRBO’s property damage protection plan will allow you to safeguard your security deposit.

Over at Airbnb, a security deposit is not always required but they do charge cleaning fees and service fees. The platform is actually more guest-friendly than other vacation rental sites, and it is usually up to the host to buy their own protection insurance. However, at Airbnb, guests also receive ratings for their stay–which may keep them on better behavior.

kid drawing

Sarah Silver, a Los Angeles-based Airbnb host, has been doing short-term rentals for almost five years and said that in the one instance where she had major damage done to a property, she was able to work it out with the guest. “I spoke to this tenant directly and we worked it out on our own, he wanted to avoid a bad review and I wanted to be reimbursed for the damages caused,” she said. “I did get Airbnb involved but this tenant in particular, thankfully, was cooperative.”

In a case like this where a child drew on the furniture, Silver said she would see if her cleaning crew could remove the stain, otherwise, she would charge the guest.

Communication Is Key Before Accepting the Key

Letting the host or homeowner know as much as you can about who’s staying with you and what you need is helpful, not just for your family but for the owner as well, Silver said. And if self-portraits, er, damages, do happen, this way it won’t be a total shock. Kids will be kids, after all.

Most owners will also have rules or policies for guests to abide by during their stay. In Carmel, our owner had a thin binder with laminated pages detailing exactly what was allowed and what wasn’t allowed, along with check-in and check-out procedures and even minor things like what to do with trash and linens. There were also several pages on what to do and see in the area. To some, this binder of rules may seem a little not-so-relaxing but for our family, it kept us mindful of the property and to an extent, our wallets.

Or Else Book a Hotel

If you worry your kids might be too much for a home, hotels are usually more lenient when it comes to damage, unless it’s some wild amount of destruction. Hotel rooms are designed and built with guest wear-and-tear in mind, and most rooms have very little for guests to break, aside from TVs and furniture. Family-geared resorts will definitely let a little self-portrait on the furniture slide.

As one hotel employee told me, “People are animals. A kid with crayons is the least of our worries.”

And usually there’s nothing priceless or irreplaceable in hotel rooms. When spills or stains happen, and they do all the time, the housekeeping squad is equipped with heavy-duty cleaning products to get them out. As one hotel employee told me, “People are animals. A kid with crayons is the least of our worries.”

But with a hotel, you’ll pay more per night and you won’t have much space.

So it’s worth it to spend a little bit of time with the kids before you check in to a rental to remind them that this isn’t their house, and permanent marker means FOREVER. We’ve certainly got our vacation rental rules speech down now.

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