Here are seven things to do before renting out your home:
Get Permission - This is not the time to gamble on your landlord's goodwill. If your lease prohibits subletting, you could be evicted. Remember, you have no control over how your guests behave, so trying to secretly sublease could go very very wrong and just isn't worth the risk. Hint: if your landlord needs convincing, share your super-responsible plan of action (this one).
Get it in writing - Before you accept a guest, iron out all the details of the agreement, especially in areas where problems are likely to arise. Will you ask for a deposit to hold reservations in case of no-show guests? What about a security deposit to cover any damage (and what exactly constitutes damage)? Having "before" photos just in case is always smart. Sites like Airbnb usually have some protocol built into their service, but if you go the Craigslist route, it's akin to the wild west of subletting, so cover yourself.
Hire professional cleaners - If you'll be gone for several months, chances are you'll have some guest turnover. For your health and happiness and that of your guests, hire a professional cleaner to give each renter a fresh start. Just work the cost into the rent or add it to the agreement as an extra fee. Added bonus: you get to come home to a clean house!
Have a local contact - You're away but someone needs to mind the store. A friend in the building or neighborhood is ideal, since this is the person who will be in change of the keys, letting in new guests or cleaners, and checking that everything is in order when they leave. Although this job sounds easy, it can quickly turn into a headache, so make sure to find someone you trust and make it worth their while with a little pay or a hefty thank you gift.
Remove/stow valuables - A friend of mine who recently rented her loft found an elegant solution to this problem. She designated one (locked) closet to store everything she didn't want her guests to access. Another closet was filled with everything they might need (and were welcome to use) such as extra linens, pillows and TP. Making things easy to find prevents your guests from rummaging through your things to find the basics.
Provide essentials - Renting your place means strangers will be using your home, so don't hide everything away! They will need to eat off your plates and sleep in your bed. If that creeps you out, renting probably isn't for you. If you choose to rent, be a good host by making sure you're stocked with kitchen essentials, clean linens and anything else a hotel would provide.
Leave a guide - Your routine is second nature to you, but your guests will need a reference to help navigate your space. Make sure to leave a guide listing phone numbers, internet and security passwords, trash pick-up info and any other household quirks they may encounter. Does the bathroom door need to be jiggled in order to close? Write it down! It's also especially helpful to leave a few neighborhood tips: grocery store and restaurant recommendations, bus and subway stations and parks or movie theaters to check out. Your guests will greatly appreciate it!
(Image: by Alison Gilbert for Robert and Hannah's 'Casa Eclectic')