Operations 101: Working with Vacation Rental Cleaners

Koryn Okey
Koryn Okey

October 26, 2023

Welcome to the first installment of Operations 101: Working with Vacation Rental Cleaners. Over the next 4 weeks, we’ll share insights for you to consider as you focus on improving your business’ operational efficiency. We’ve enlisted the help of industry veteran, Steve Craig who will be weighing in from his 42 years of experience building world-class housekeeping teams.  

There are generally three ways to work with cleaners: 1) in-house employees, 2) subcontractors, or 3) a mix of the two. There has been an age-old debate about if one is better, but each has its own pros and cons.

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The Pros and Cons of Hiring or Contracting Vacation Rental Cleaners

What is the difference between an employee and a subcontractor?

Hiring an employee provides much more control to the vacation rental company. You can instruct them on uniforms, working hours, supplies and products to use, how to cleanand more. However, there is substantially more impact on the business with employees with respect to taxes, benefits, and more.

Hiring a subcontractor means you’re entering a legal partnership with an independent contractor, you do not have a say in any of the above and must simply agree on when work will be completed and how the property will look when the work is completed (SPA). 

Many small businesses choose to use subcontractors for cleaning, specifically as they’re getting started. This makes sense as they’re focused on growing the business, establishing processes and standards, and usually do not need full-time housekeepers in the early days. As businesses grow, though, many companies focus on bringing housekeeping in-house to gain more control over the work that is being done and control costs.

If you do decide to go with subcontractors, the most important step is to make sure the sub is legal. Simply giving them a 1099 does not make them legal.

So, what makes a subcontractor legal?

  • They have the required Workers' Compensation insurance

  • They have general liability insurance

Once you know the subcontractor is operating legally, there are other considerations to ensure that you’re entering into a good partnership.

  • They provide all their own supplies and equipment. (Some companies allow subs to use vacuums provided by the owner for guest use, but this should be discouraged).

  • They have excellent references.

  • You MUST have a written contract. It does not have to be exceptionally detailed and 10 pages long, but one must exist.

  • They cannot wear your uniform, even if it is a simple t-shirt.

  • You cannot prohibit them from working for others. They need to offer their services to others, even if it is just a private clean bi-weekly.

What do I need to know if I work with subcontractors?

It’s also imperative to remember this is not an employee and they must be treated differently, per IRS regulations. If you’re unclear about what that means or how to distinguish an employee from a sub, check out the IRS website. 

It’s important to be meticulous about this because “You are not an independent contractor if you perform services that can be controlled by an employer (what will be done and how it will be done).” For most rental companies, they have to control things like time to clean, which days to clean, standards for the work, and times the work has to be done so ensuring subcontractors are treated differently is extremely important.

Where do I find an excellent cleaner for my vacation rental business?

  • Say hello! If you have an office, they may come to you, stopping by to offer their services and leave a business card.

  • Monitor and post in local online groups. This could be an industry Facebook group, your local community page or a specialized marketplace for short-term rental cleaners. 

  • Ask around. If you know others in your area who oversee rentals, find out who they are using and reach out to see if they’re taking on new clients.

Once you've found someone you're considering hiring, you'll want to:

  1. Agree on compensation. Consider focusing on three jobs to start:

    • Departure cleans

    • Departure inspections (Note: this may be done by the subcontractor or a dedicated inspector. If done by a subcontractor and there is a real complaint about the work, you don’t pay this fee, but this should be noted in the contract.)

    • Deep cleaning or annual cleaning

  2. Once you’ve agreed on compensation, complete the contract and get a copy of their Workers’ Comp and liability insurance documentation.

  3. Provide them with a copy of your cleaning standards.

  4. The final step is to set up a trial clean on an actual departure (tip: be sure there is not a same-day turnover at the property so you have time to address any mistakes!).

What is a trial clean, and why should I do one?

A trial clean provides the cleaner the opportunity to complete a clean without the stress of check-in and instills the confidence that they can do the job. This is a monitored clean that allows you to set clear expectations before the cleaning starts and provide real-time feedback upon completion. Some companies pay for this trial clean, others do it for free. Whichever you choose, you must do a trial to ensure you both have the same level of standards and avoid issues down the line.

How do I facilitate a trial clean?

  1. Give the cleaner the date, location, and time just as you would a normal clean.

  2. Meet them at the unit to review the cleaning standards. This ensures there will be no misunderstandings.

  3. Agree on the amount of time the cleaning and, if applicable, inspection will take to complete.

  4. Start your stopwatch and return at the agreed-upon time.

  5. Walk through the unit with them doing an inspection to see if the work is acceptable so they can learn your inspection routine.

What do I need to know if I decide to hire an in-house cleaner(s)?

  • You should complete a background check. This is important to protect both your business and your property owners. 

  • Be prepared to provide all the cleaning supplies and equipment.

  • Determine pay for each cleaning service you provide. 

  • It is still recommended - even more so - to facilitate a trial clean before hiring a cleaner. Since this is not a subcontractor, you will need to compensate them for the cleaning. 

  • Make sure they can take feedback and are willing to learn. 

  • Hire an inspector so they can check the cleaner’s work.

  • Have a backup plan. People get sick, travel or stop working for you. If you only have one cleaner and they can’t work, you may find yourself in a sticky (pun intended!) situation.

  • Understand how much work one individual can do and make sure you're appropriately staffed. This is hard work, and it’s important not to burn your team out!

Be sure to check back next week, where we’ll discuss the benefits of hourly and piece rate and how to calculate the latter. In the meantime, if you have specific housekeeping questions, please feel free to email community@breezeway.io and we’ll cover them in a future post!

Make working with cleaners easy
Breezeway automates your cleaning schedules and shares digital checklists with your cleaners to meet your standards.
Book a Demo