Your Second Home: Saying "No" to People Who Want to Use Your Vacation Home for Free

Owning a vacation home is one of life’s greatest joys, and you’ve probably earned it (or else you wouldn’t be able to pay for it).

But it isn’t all hot toddies by the slopes and daiquiris on the beach at sunset. You have to take care of your second home, which can be tough from afar. And there are expenses associated with owning a second home, like regular maintenance and caretaking if you can’t be there as often as you would like.

If you rent your place out to help offset the costs, you’ve spent some time making sure you’re following all the rules about how often you can stay there and what expenses you can deduct on your property as an investment. When you go for the weekend, it isn’t a non-stop party.

You’re there to make sure everything is in working order, make a few repairs if you can, and replace anything that might give renters a bad impression of your home.

Your Friends and Family Want In

Owning a second home is rewarding and fun, but much like most things that are rewarding and fun, you do have to work for it. But your friends and some family may not see it that way.

They see your screened-in porch overlooking the beach, not the fact that you repaired the screens and sanded the rails yourself after renters complained that the porch wasn’t comfortable to use because of the mosquitos.

They see you getting in your car and heading up to the mountains for the weekend, not the fact that you only made it onto the slopes for an hour because you spent your time there taking new pictures to try to make your online ad more appealing to renters.

Your friends think of you as the lucky one with a place on the river, perfect for fishing. You hope the fish are biting because you’re trying to save on groceries so you can pay the mortgage on that second home.

Well-meaning friends and family, especially if you’ve invited them as guests in the past, see your ownership as free and clear, and they may not understand what it costs you to let people stay for free.

If your home is classified as an investment property, you can only take 14 personal days a year or less, and freebies for anyone count against those personal days.

Also, any time someone stays for free is a time you could be making money from renters. And if your Uncle Randy breaks the blender making his famous Jolly Rancher Margaritas, you’ll need to buy a new one. (Randy is a lot of fun, but something always gets broken.)

So, how do you say no?

  1. If it isn’t too late, say no from the beginning. Explain that it’s a rental property and that there are rules about how many days you can give away for free.

  2. Offer your property to relatives at a discount. Some people may offer a week’s stay at half the regular rate to certain family members or friends. This won’t count against your personal days, but make sure you decide at the beginning exactly who gets the discount and ask them to keep it kind of quiet. If you only offer it to your siblings, let them know not to mention it to your first cousins. Or Uncle Randy.

  3. Invoke a third party who isn’t present and can’t be questioned. “Oh, we’d love to, but our accountant/insurance agent/property manager says we can’t.”

  4. But what if you don’t have an excuse? Just say no. Full stop. Don’t apologize and don’t make excuses. “Thanks so much for asking. We’re flattered that you love our place, but we have to say no.” Then change the subject. And if they persist? That’s on them, not you. They’re being rude, and you have every right to wander off and talk to someone else.

Ultimately, your second home is for you. Whether it’s an income producing investment property or a place you enjoy using whenever you want, you’re the one that has to put in the time and money to keep it going. It’s tough to say “no” when you want to be gracious, but you’ll be glad you did!