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Security Deposits - Security Deposit Holds

The concept of a security deposit hold is pretty straightforward: you want to be able to get money from the guest to cover damages, but you don't actually want to take any money unless you have to - and most of the time, you won't.

If you have the guest's credit card number, it seems like it would be easy enough to just hit it with an extra charge. Unfortunately, destructive guests aren't stupid - they know how to cancel their card or block your charges before you know they've wrecked your place.

A security deposit hold provides a way around this problem.  You've probably heard of them at the gas station: the gas station will place a hold of several hundred dollars on your credit card before you start pumping the gas.  Then, when you're finished, they'll charge the correct amount, and release the rest of the hold.  Only the actual charge ever shows up on your credit card bill to be paid.

OwnerRez security deposit holds work the same way: Prior to guest arrival, a hold is placed against their credit card - not a charge, just a hold.  This hold will be kept active throughout the length of their stay, and for a few days afterwards to give you a chance to check for damages.  Assuming there's no damage, the hold will eventually be automatically released.  If there's damage, though, you can place a charge against the hold and have it honored - even if the card has been canceled!

Our experience indicates that a security deposit hold is the best and most reliable way to protect yourself from guest damage, so we recommend that it be used if at all possible.

Configuring

Security deposits are configured in the Rules.

Each property has a Rules area, where you can configure the default settings for Security Deposits.

Each Booking also has a Rules tab.  This is automatically populated by whatever's set for the Property at the time the booking is created.  However, you can change it in the Booking, and only that Booking will be affected - not the Property as a whole.

The available settings are the same in both places:

Amount - the dollar amount of the security deposit hold that will be placed.  Note that this is not a charge against the guest's credit card, just a hold, which in most cases never appears on their statement, although it does count against their credit limit while active.  It is simply a guaranteed amount that you can charge against later no matter what.  It is completely separate from, and not related to, any Charges in the Booking.

Guest Reminder - The default choice is for an automatic reminder to be sent to the guest if no security deposit has been scheduled.  This normally occurs because the guest did not provide a credit card (such as, they chose to pay via check).

Even if a guest didn't provide a credit card, it's still good to leave the automatic reminder.  If they do provide a credit card for the security deposit, then you have it and are protected. If they can't, they'll usually reach out to you, and you can make some other arrangement.

Held - This is the number of days prior to guest arrival that the hold is placed.  The default is 1 day - that is, we place the hold the day before arrival.  It is not recommended to place the hold too early, because they expire automatically after a certain period of time. Generally, placing the hold 2-3 days before the guest arrives allows you time to resolve any issues with the guest should the hold not be authorized. It is not possible to place the hold at time of booking.

When the booking is created and a credit card is provided, a security deposit hold will be automatically scheduled.  You can see this on the Booking, Transactions tab.

Released - This is the number of days after guest departure that the security deposit hold will be automatically released, if you've taken no other action before that time.  This should be as short as possible, while leaving enough time to confirm that there was no damage - we've found 5 days to work well.

Releasing

The security deposit hold will be automatically released at the number of days specified in the Released setting.  In most cases, you can just let OwnerRez take care of releasing your security deposits for you; you don't have to do it manually.

If you want to release a security deposit early, you can do it at any time by going to the Booking, Transactions tab, while the security deposit is active (after the hold has been placed.)  You'll see an entry for the Security Deposit:

Click on it to see the Security Deposit Hold detail screen:

You'll see the status of the deposit, and can manually release the deposit by clicking the "Release" button and following the instructions.

Charging Against

Normally, the entire security deposit should be released.  When there is damage, though, you may want to place a charge against the deposit for part or all of the value of the hold.

This is done in exactly the same way as Releasing the deposit, so follow the instructions given above.  When you click the Collect or Release button, you get this screen:

The default setting is to release the entire amount.  But, you also have options to keep the entire amount, or to keep a specific amount and release the rest.

With either of these two options, what will actually happen is that a charge will be placed against the hold, and the hold itself released.  Since the hold was put in place earlier and confirmed by the bank, the charge will be automatically approved - it won't have to re-run the credit card, and will be valid even if the card has been cancelled or the credit limit has been reached.

The page also prompts you to send emails to the guest.  We recommend that you clearly specify your reasons for keeping the security deposit in your email, and to provide whatever evidence you have available (photos, receipts, etc.)  This will be important if the guest disputes your charge with their credit card company.  Even more importantly, if it looks like you have overwhelming evidence, the guest may not bother disputing it with their credit card company, which you'd really prefer they didn't do.

PM Accounting

If you are using OwnerRez' Property Management premium feature, all amounts collected from security deposits will automatically be credited as money due to the PM (you), not the owner.  Thus, they will not appear on any Owner Statement.

If the money really should go to the owner, you'll need to create a negative expense entry in the Expenses area.  So if you want to give the owner $100 from the security deposit funds, you would create a negative expense for -$100, which would send $100 back to the owner as a credit on the next statement you generate for them.

Refunding

Sometimes, you'll take money from a guest's security deposit to cover damages, and then discover that there was a mistake or misunderstanding and that money should actually not have been taken.

Unfortunately, at present OwnerRez does not have the ability to cancel or refund money that was taken from a security deposit hold.  You will need to do this via the control panel of your credit card payment processor.

Airbnb

Airbnb allows you to take a security deposit hold from your guests. However, there's a quirk: they don't transmit us the guest credit card information, so OwnerRez has to obtain that directly from the guest.

You can activate this "offline" security deposit hold in your Airbnb API settings:

Why not just use the Airbnb option?

Airbnb supposedly does do security deposits, but they don't really - they don't actually take money or place a hold, and they don't let you collect it without their approval and the guest's permission.  So it's really no different than the regular resolution center requests, and rarely pays out to you.

With our real security deposit holds, you have direct access to the guest's credit card, and you can collect whatever damages are appropriate.  The guest can challenge that via chargeback, of course, but at least that puts the ball in their court, and Airbnb isn't involved at all.

Turning on this feature in OwnerRez will apply to all future Airbnb API bookings only.  It will not add a security deposit requirement to any pre-existing bookings, because they've already agreed to your terms without it.

There are two ways to get the necessary credit card information directly from the guest, since Airbnb doesn't provide it to you:

Built-In Collection

If you have already configured OwnerRez to use security deposit holds for your direct-book and/or Vrbo API guests, you're probably using settings like these in your House Rules:

You can see:

  • The amount of the hold
  • The guest reminder
  • The number of days before arrival that the hold will be taken
  • The number of days before departure that the hold will be automatically released, if you haven't already manually released it by then

If you have the Guest Reminder selection turned on - and you should - then when it's time for the security deposit hold to be reserved, OwnerRez will automatically notice that you don't have a card on file for the guest, and send them a message asking for one.  When the guest provides it, the hold will automatically be taken.  If the guest does not respond, we'll have no card, and thus no hold - you'll have to take manual action.

That's the quick and easy way.  But, if you want to get fancy, read on...

Custom Email Templates

If you want to have the credit card information on file further in advance, you'll need to set up an automatic template and trigger to ask for it as soon as the Airbnb booking is created.  You may also want to simply build this into other automatic messages you are sending to your Airbnb guests.

There are three different field codes you can use, that both generate links that allow the guest to enter their credit card information:

  • {BUSECDEP} - this sends the guest directly to the screen where they can enter their credit card information

  • {BUFIXUP} - this is a combination link that will walk the guest through the process of completing anything that they need to do.  This will include entering their credit card information if they haven't already; completing any required data fields that they haven't yet; signing the rental agreement; even offering them travel insurance.

Either way, the credit card information will be saved on file until it's time for the security deposit hold to be placed.

Display

The requirement for the security deposit will be displayed on your Airbnb listing under the Health & Safety area:

While this does meet Airbnb requirements, and they say they'll enforce it if guests don't comply, this is nevertheless pretty obscure and easy to miss.  So it is strongly recommended to specifically state your security deposit in your Airbnb API House Rules.  That gives guests two opportunities to see and obey the requirement so they aren't surprised by it.

Also, your security deposit amount must be at least $127, and no more than $6,347.

Booking.com

Booking.com has two different payment modes:

  • Normally, Booking.com handles all payments by guests, very much like Airbnb.
  • Under certain circumstances, it is possible to persuade Booking.com support to send guests' real credit card numbers securely into OwnerRez to be charged using your own credit card payment processor.  In this mode, Booking.com works very much when you are using the Vrbo API.

Regardless of which mode you are using, it is possible to obtain real security deposit holds from Booking.com guests so long as you have a credit card payment processor account configured in OwnerRez.  If you do, then we recommend doing a security deposit hold.  This option can be selected in your OwnerRez Booking.com API settings:

If your Booking.com account is configured to send guests' real credit card numbers securely into OwnerRez, no further action is required.

Otherwise (the more common case), you will need to configure OwnerRez to reach out to the guests to get their card information as is done for Airbnb, either using Built-In Collection or Custom Email Templates.  If you don't do either, OwnerRez won't have any way to get the credit card information, so it won't be able to take a security deposit hold.

Vrbo/HomeToGo

Vrbo and HomeToGo fully support taking security deposit holds on the guests' credit cards. Because both of these channels send OwnerRez the full guest credit card information, the holds can be entirely automatic.

There are two ways to show the secdep requirement to the guest: a) as a "security deposit collected at the property" (the default) or b) as a house rule. The "security deposit collected at the property" can confuse guests (since the hold is actually just taken on the card), so we have an option to turn off that display if you're showing the amount in your house rules instead

To switch to house rule mode, follow these instructions...

Go to Settings > API Integrations > click on the Vrbo or HTG API connection > click Change.  You'll see this screen:

Under Security Deposit, select the second option.  OwnerRez will automatically use your property security deposit hold settings for all API bookings.

Then, under the Channel Rules, make sure you mention that a security deposit will be reserved, and the amount.  If you have different amounts for different properties, there are two ways to handle this:

a) Use language such as "up to" the maximum amount any of your properties are set to.

OR

b) Set individual Vrbo house rules on the Channel Rules tab of each property so each one can have different values.

Even though the setting says Vrbo, it will apply to both Vrbo and HTG since their systems work the same way.

If you add this statement, Vrbo and/or HTG will consider that you have legitimately notified your guests of this requirement, and will allow the security deposit to be enforced.  OwnerRez will take care of that automatically as with any other booking.  Here's what it looks like to the guest in Vrbo's booking interface:

Common Questions

The guest is complaining that I haven't released the hold.  But I did!

OwnerRez does not actually have the power to release a credit hold.  What we do is, notify your credit card processor that we no longer require the hold.

The processor then notifies their interchange bank, which then notifies the bank that issued the guest's credit card, which releases the hold.

These actions are supposed to take place more or less instantly - but that doesn't always happen. In particular, it is common for the guest's bank not to release the hold for several days after they've been notified that they can.  It is extremely common, almost the norm, for this to happen if the guest is using a debit card.  This is why many hotels and rental car companies recommend that you not use a debit card - they use holds too, and suffer from the same problem.

We have absolutely no control over this, it is entirely a function of the guest's bank who won't even talk to us.  Sometimes the guest can call their bank and get their customer service folks to dig into the records, find the message to release the hold, and make it happen more quickly.  Other times they just have to wait until it clears itself out, however long that may take.

The guest says I took their money instead of placing a hold.  But I didn't!

If they're using a debit card, they're half right.  Yes, the money value in the amount of the hold has been removed from their account.  You don't have it, though - their bank does, and will keep it until you release the hold, and often for several days or a week later.  The bank makes (a little bit of) interest from holding this money in their account, so they're in no particular hurry to put it back.  This is why credit cards are preferable to debit cards.  Unfortunately, we have absolutely no control whatsoever over this behavior - you don't think the guest's bank listens to us, do you?

The guest says I took two security deposit holds and now their credit card is maxed out.  But I didn't!

Actually, yes, you probably did without knowing it.

Security deposit holds do not last forever, which is why we recommend that the Held and Released numbers discussed above be as low as practical.  If a hold expires before the configured time, OwnerRez will automatically place a new hold.

Because banks do not instantly release the holds when they say they do, it is possible for two holds to be active at the same time.  This is particularly true for debit cards, and is something we have no control over.  If the guest was right at their credit limit, this can result in the renewal of the hold failing for insufficient funds.  If that happens, OwnerRez will automatically try again the next day.

Here is a general guide to the maximum time security deposit holds can last, but there are always exceptions:

PayPal

29 days

Cannot be renewed at all.  A new hold can be requested from the guest but requires their approval.

Authorize.net

30 days

Cannot be renewed automatically, but can be renewed manually

Stripe 7 days, renewed automatically
Sage 7 days, renewed automatically
Braintree 7 days, renewed automatically
BridgePay 7 days, renewed automatically
Lynnbrook 7 days, renewed automatically

Converge/Elavon

Costco

21 days, renewed automatically
All others

7 days

Cannot be renewed automatically, but can be renewed manually

If a renewal fails, OwnerRez will try again the next day.

Why did the security deposit hold renew after the guest already departed?

Your Property Rules has a setting for Released, which is usually several days after departure.  This is to allow you time to clean and inspect the property and identify any damages.  If the security deposit hold expires after the guest has left, but before you manually release it or the Released time has arrived, it will be automatically renewed.

I thought I had a security deposit reserved, but now OwnerRez is telling me it's declined?

What probably happened is what's discussed above under "two security deposit holds" - the first one expired, we tried to take another one, and there wasn't enough credit available.

You can try to manually reserve another security deposit yourself - the first hold may have been released, restoring credit limit.  Or, you could reach out to the guest for a different credit card.  You can do this in the Booking, Transactions tab, Security Deposit dropdown button.

Or, if the security deposit hold is supposed to still be valid, OwnerRez will keep trying every day until the time it should be automatically released is reached, or you manually release the hold.

I have security deposit holds configured, and the guest paid with PayPal, why aren't my security deposit holds happening?

PayPal works differently from normal credit card processors - we aren't able to keep the credit card info, so we aren't able to automatically schedule a security deposit hold using PayPal.  The best we can do is send out email reminders asking the guests to authorize the hold with PayPal; then we'll have one.  If you've turned off the security deposit reminders, this won't take place, and you won't get any security deposit holds for your PayPal guests.

I kept money from a hold, but it was too much and I need to give some back. How?

Oops... you kind of can't. :-( This is a known issue.

There is no way to refund or void a security deposit collection once actual money is collected.  You could lower the booking charges and write in a negative line item to give money back and then issue a refund that way, but that's it.  Otherwise, you would have to send it back offline.