Compliance and Regulations for STR Hosts

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In this Boostly podcast, Liam Carolan interviews Catherine Ratcliffe of STR Benefits Consulting about crucial insights for short-term rental hosts, especially regarding regulations like human trafficking. 

Catherine's consultancy caters to a diverse clientele, providing solutions for issues such as dependent verification and non-discrimination testing. Emphasizing continuous education and community support within the vacation rental industry, Catherine highlights the upcoming discussion on human trafficking at an international conference.

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Timestamps (audio)



[00:00:00] Liam: So you're tuning into the Boostly podcast. This is the podcast that gives hosts, the tools, the tactics, the training, and most importantly, the confidence. So you can go out there and get yourself more direct bookings. This is the mini series with myself, Liam Carolan, and this is where we shine the Boostly spotlight on services, people, experts that you need to be aware of if you're in the short term rental space.

[00:00:20] And today we've got a special guest. We've got Catherine Ratcliffe. She's coming to us from. Just outside of Tampa in Florida, and she's here to represent her business, which is STR Benefits Consulting and really just talk about her journey and why that's important. What you're going to get out of this is you're going to get some information that you need to know about some of the regulations, some of the things that you should be aware of in regarding regulations, and also just some good tips and advice.

[00:00:47] So welcome along, Catherine. Thank you for joining us today.

[00:00:50] Catherine: Thank you so much, Liam. It's good to be here.

[00:00:52] Liam: So obviously we've said. Roughly where you are, but if you just let the, uh, the listeners know exactly where you are and if you give your elevator pitch for your business.

[00:01:03] Catherine: Sure. Yeah, no, I'm coming from Apollo beach, which is just outside of, of, uh, the Tampa Bay area, so kind of between.

[00:01:10] Tampa and Sarasota right in right in that little corridor. And, uh, yeah, I started STR benefits consulting. I've been a large group employee benefits consultant for the last 22 years. And so started that journey long before I ventured into vacation rental ownership and management. Originally from Canada.

[00:01:30] And so one of one of the things that I always tell people is that I, when I moved here, I knew nothing about America. Well, I shouldn't say nothing about America, but I didn't know anything about American benefits. That's for sure. And, and really the geography of Florida either. And so I've The running joke was always that I spelt Cigna with an S because I didn't know any differently.

[00:01:49] And when you come into, you know, that, that space of starting a company and getting your first team member and, and all the rest of it, you know, you're told to decide if you're going to be an LLC or an S corp and open a bank account and get an accountant and a credit card and that kind of thing. And the education kind of can end there.

[00:02:09] And so my goal is to help employers. Bridge that gap in, in understanding, you know, what sets you apart to help you recruit and retain the top talent and, and really serve your team members as, as the vital resources that they are so that you can grow and scale your organization the way you want to.

About Verma

[00:02:30] Liam: And you're going to be speaking about this, uh, Verma, I understand that's coming up and, uh, you've also been a member on a few podcasts, just talk us through, uh, that event and

[00:02:39] Catherine: what's going on.

[00:02:40] Yeah, so I am, I'm going to be speaking. I'm a panelist with, um, Justin Ford and Andrew Bate at the international conference. And we're speaking specifically on human trafficking and both from a guest experience, a, a host and property management experience, as well as the employer responsibility. Um, here in the U.

[00:03:00] S. we have a piece of legislation called the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which is a 20 year old piece of legislation that really shares that if the employer should have known, then the employer can be responsible for civil penalties that a team member Or or someone else can can file suit against them.

[00:03:19] So just really talking about some best practices. Obviously, nobody wants to associate their vacation rental property with any form of human trafficking, labor or or other and, um. So our goal is to help with some best practices of of some things that you can do to keep yourself on on the right side of that.

Advise regarding short-term rentals

[00:03:38] Liam: If you could share just one piece of advice for somebody listening who's looking to do that, what would be your piece of advice regarding short term rentals? What should people be tracking and what are some of those patterns that you said you love to to dive

[00:03:50] Catherine: into? On on the actual rental side, um, I I love to look at, you know, the booking windows and the ancillary events that are around and what drives folks to come to the area.

[00:04:06] Um, you know, a lot of times when people find out where we are, a lot of times, they're like, I've been. I would never have thought to put something in Ocala and it's like, well, that's where the equestrian center is and my daughter rides. And that's, that's what made sense to me. Um, and so I would say, you know, my, my biggest piece of advice is to never stop listening, never stop learning and growing.

[00:04:27] Cause there's always something new on the regulatory side, on the benefits side. It's like playing whack a mole. You figure one thing out and then something else changes. And I think that's very true in the vacation rental space too. I think we've, a lot of us have experienced that this last year. You know, everybody thought they had it figured out last year and then the game changed this year.

[00:04:48] And there's, you know, been more regulation and, you know, travel patterns are slightly different. And so understanding those components, um, at a very specific level, when you're talking about taking care of your team, understanding that your team member today. Is not the same team member from a year ago, right?

[00:05:04] Cause their life evolves. They've, they've aged, they've had a baby, they've gotten married, they've gotten divorced, like whatever the things are, I have a kid that's getting ready to go to college. And so things like identity theft and, um, you know, legal counseling and things like that are really important to me right now, because she was going to go to college.

[00:05:22] And I always tell people, what's the first thing your kid signs up for when they go to college? It's credit cards. So, you know, teaching them about responsible credit and that they don't always listen to moms and dads because we obviously know nothing. We just are here to pay bills. Um, so helping them, helping people understand that there are no stupid questions and somebody has been here before and let them take Some of the hard work.

[00:05:47] My greatest resources have been the folks in this community that have taken the time to help me with sometimes some of the most basic things. I was at the Book Direct show last October and I won a Destination Air award, um, with, with, uh, Will and, and Damian there. And, um, I was sitting at the table trying to do a LinkedIn post and I had a marketing team.

[00:06:13] I had people that did this for me in my real career and I needed help linking and LinkedIn and it was the dumbest thing, but I was sitting next to John and and I asked him for help and I afterwards because I didn't know, you know, who everybody was. I felt so stupid that of all the people I asked somebody who's, you know, these tech gurus, but everybody is so giving in this industry.

[00:06:33] And if you just ask the question, people will help you. Anybody will help you with any piece of it. And. I think that's one of the greatest privileges of working in this industry is that level of support that's out there.

Host & unit questions

[00:06:45] Liam: Who is it that you specifically help? What kind of hosts, um, you know, how many units do they tend to have and how do you best serve them?

[00:06:54] Catherine: So there's a, there's a couple of different Um, structures, because in this industry, you'll have folks that are solo printers, and then you'll have folks that, you know, have hundreds of employees and everywhere in between. And so there's an option for a subscription based model where you can really, if it's just me, and I need to understand a medical bill, or, you know, I don't really understand what I'm being told.

[00:07:17] Why is my prescription being denied? Like here in the US, everybody's had problems with, um, you know, the, um, The glucose like, um, injectable medications, because all of the pharmacy management companies just went through a revamp on that. So if I'm one person and my prescriptions being denied, and I have no idea why, or I need a life insurance option.

[00:07:37] And there's nobody that's helping me. Cause if you're one person, what I can tell you is nobody's helping you. Cause there's just not a lot of revenue out there. You can access this and get some help and get some information. But on the larger side of that, if you are, you know, 25 employees. 65 employees and you maybe have some formation of a benefits program.

[00:07:59] Understanding the good, bad, and ugly can be challenging because this is not your core competency. You might have a broker or somebody that's representing you, but you don't really know why things are happening a certain way, why you're being recommended to move. You HR director, um, and you need somebody to help.

[00:08:17] You know, guide you along on the regulatory stuff. You know, the, one of the biggest ones, um, we touched on before is the human trafficking component, you know, we've gone and everybody thinks of it from, you know, from a sex trafficking perspective. And they say, well, I, you know, I would, that wouldn't apply to me.

[00:08:33] And what they don't realize is you might have somebody that. Is putting folks that are not their actual dependence on the plan. And so dependent verification is very important. You know, you get to that point where you're so proud to be able to offer benefits. And I know for me transitioning from, you know, being an employee to an employer, offering benefits is.

[00:08:58] Is a huge, um, important factor for me. And so I would never want to find out that somebody who added a child, that that wasn't their child, that was actually their trafficking victim, right? Whether that's on life insurance or what have you. So doing that dependent verification can help clean some of that up.

[00:09:14] And then also on the labor side, you know, we've gotten to a place where we're so high tech. We don't ask for voided checks anymore. And so you really do need a banking letter to say, this is actually Catherine Radcliffe's bank account. And it's not going to my trafficker. And so those little details that are very easy to implement there, they don't cost you really anything if you're using a traditional payroll system, and it keeps you, you know, safe for many of those regulatory concerns.

[00:09:42] Non discrimination testing is another one and again people so I would never discriminate, and you don't realize that. By definition, you can end up in a situation where you are discriminating because only individuals of a certain pay rate can afford this benefit, right? Or even because we're such a virtual, um, industry, you might have folks that say.

[00:10:05] You're based in the US, but you have a VA in Canada and you can't just stick them on a life insurance plan here in the US. That's that's illegal. You've got to work through some of those things, but you don't know what you don't know. So I'm here as a resource to help with all of that. I've curated benefits that I think marry up to our industry specifically.

[00:10:27] And then for folks who just want me to review contracts and provide savings, whether it's on the pharmacy component or even helping them choose a broker. Um, because sometimes you You don't know who the good guys are and who the not so good guys are. And you don't want to be in that situation where you're just being steered for bonus money for a broker that, you know, that's, that's not your intention, you're trying to offer a comprehensive program to really help your team members.

[00:10:55] I mean, we, we all consider them. Them family and their families are important to them. So there are very minimal things that you need to do to really demonstrate that. And again, reduce your, your turnover is that acquisition costs for that team member. So huge, especially with what we do when you start talking about if they've, you know, if you've entered a quiet quitting situation with your cleaner, that is a huge problem, right?

[00:11:20] And you want to make sure. Everybody feels, um, that culture that you're trying to demonstrate with your brand and, and that is how you know that's one way to do that is within your benefit program.

[00:11:33] Liam: Having a blast. Gonna get it on the Bruce Lee podcast. Bruce Lee. Let Bruce Lee 'cause it's so hard on the tea's loose leaf, making up those rhymes.

[00:11:41] Don't write it just to me loosely.