(Nov. 1, 2013) Despite going by many euphemisms – the ol’ switcheroo, the flip-flop, the smooth maneuver – most every resort realtor and rental agent has seen it happen every June.
“The parents that are emailing or calling don’t think that Johnny or Susie are going to be doing what kids do down here,” said Steve Pivec of Central Reservations. “So they come in and pick up the keys, then turn around and give the keys to the kids and leave.”
This week, Maryland’s big political news was the fallout generated from Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Doug Gansler’s allegedly laissez faire attitude toward teen partying and alcohol use during the annual post-graduation bacchanal known a Senior Week.
But for those in the lodging business, indiscretion like Gansler’s is something they’ve been combating for decades, with varying tactics and varying levels of success.
Gansler has been in hot water since a photo surfaced of him wading through a throng of allegedly drunk teenagers – some of whom were dancing on a table – at a beach house in Dewey Beach, Del.. Gansler’s son was staying at the house with roughly a dozen other graduates, and Gansler and the other parents had secured the home’s rent for their children.
Gansler has since maintained that he was there briefly to speak with his son, but admitted he should have been more aware of what was going on and done more to curb the activities.
Yet what causes outrage in Annapolis is simply par for the course in the resort area, where it’s not out of the ordinary for parents to rent properties without letting on that their children and children’s friends will be occupying the space.
“I wouldn’t say it’s common, but we hear about it all the time, and it does happen every year,” said Donna Greenwood, organizer of Ocean City’s Play It Safe program, which provides drug- and alcohol-free events for high school students during June.
Greenwood’s program caters to those students who are interested in having a good time outside of the party scene, and whose parents are likely a bit more conscientious. But even those students who choose not to engage in risky behavior on their parents’ dime do so out of their own volition.
“We give them the opportunity, if they want to, to make a good choice,” Greenwood said. “As a parent, you have to realize that they are going to be outside of your guidance at some point in their lives. If you’ve done your job as a parent, you don’t have too much to worry about.”
In the heart of Ocean City, the rush for next year’s rentals – and figuring out who is really renting them – is already underway.
“We’re getting them already,” Pivec said. “A lot of the parents are honest and just say ‘I’m looking for a place for my daughter or my son and his friends.’”
In other cases – especially those in which he never speaks to the customer – Pivec has had to become a little more discerning.
“You can just read into the email to see what they’re looking for,” he said. “You’ve got to ask all the questions. You can’t just take it at face value when they say it’s a family in the rental.”
“We’ve had that happen in the past, where parents would call and make reservations and drive down, pay for everything, and just leave,” said Igor Conev of Mann Properties. “Then, at check-out time, all hell breaks loose.”
Ocean City’s relatively high rental prices tend to compress the situation, Conev noted.
“The availability of places for young kids down here to rent for themselves is not that big,” he said. “It’s going to be the lower-end motels or condos. Sometimes the parents will step in to get them something a little better.”
Greenwood said that most of the students she’s met through Play It Safe are financing themselves, at least in part.
“I would say the majority are contributing all or at least part of the cost,” she said.
Many rental agencies go so far as to require the in-person identification and signature of everyone staying in a given property, regardless of whether they’re paying for it.
“Everyone who is staying in the unit must sign the rental agreement,” said Jeanne Keravich of Ocean City Weekly Rentals. “If they’re not 18, they have to have a parent sign with them. Some just sign it and forget it, but I talk to a lot of nervous parents.”
Conversely, Holiday Real Estate – another of the resort’s large-scale condo rental brokers – has found success in keeping parents out of it.
“We don’t allow parents to make the reservations for the kids. They’re not allowed to sign for their children,” said Holiday’s Pat Terrill.
Terrill said she’s found better results with simply tightening the rules for everyone, not just graduates.
“You have to be the person staying there to rent it, no matter how old you are,” she said. “During the month of June, across the board, we require a security deposit of $1,000, no matter who you are. We’ve had very few problems, and I believe that’s because we treat the kids like adults.”
While requiring the renter to also be the resident is a perfectly acceptable policy, many property owners find themselves running up against the fine line of age discrimination. Hotels attempting to ban high school students have been met with legal challenges over the years, noted Susan Jones, Executive Director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association.
In 2001 and 2002, as the result of such a challenge, the HMRA worked with other state lodging groups to craft legislation that would clarify what can and cannot be done, resulting in the Maryland “Inkeepers Law” of 2002.
That policy specifies that businesses renting four or more rooms can charge additional security deposits, require up-front payment, or mandate parental signatures for minors.
“But ultimately age is a protected class, and the hotel keeper cannot deny access to a minor if they can pay a reasonable rate,” Jones said.
“If the owner chooses to rent in May or June, and a kid calls, you can’t turn them away,” Conev said. Furthermore, the threat of consequences for those who misrepresent themselves is lower for private condo owners who rent their units, since they are not covered under the 2002 law.
“You can’t really evict someone without 30-day notice unless you have some type of lodging agreement, instead of a lease,” he said.