It’s a dilemma that many holiday-home owners face: what to do with the property when not in residence. Some 582,000 households in England claim to have second homes, and figures from the Office of National Statistics show that 5% of the adult population (more than two million people) own their main property and at least one other home.

Those with a conscience will be aware that a heavy concentration of second-home ownership can lead to ghost towns in areas popular with summer or weekend visitors. The Daily Telegraph recently revealed that holiday homes now outnumber those owned by locals along the popular north Cornwall coastline between Polzeath and Port Isaac.

Someone troubled by this situation was Sophie Garrett, a London-based IT consultant who owns a cottage in Suffolk, near the coastal town of Southwold. Aware that, with all the will in the world, she was only able to stay in the cottage one weekend in two, but unwilling to rent the property out on a long-term let, she had the idea of fractional rentals. ‘I didn’t feel that we were playing a part in our local community, so it was a waste of a cottage,’ explains Miss Garrett. ‘But I didn’t want to let it as a holiday cottage. The marketing costs just wouldn’t justify it, and unless you own somewhere with year-round appeal, you can only hope to let it for about 12–15 weeks a year, which means sacrificing all of the summer. It just didn’t stack up.’

Inspired by some small advertisements in the back of the RAC members’ magazine, Miss Garrett decided there was a gap in the market for people who fall somewhere between needing long- and short-term rentals. The idea is fairly simple: owners of second homes find a person or a group of people who will pay to rent the house for set periods, say every second or third weekend, throughout the year. After a futile search online to see if anyone could offer this service, Miss Garrett launched her own website, www.yours2share.com, two years ago. The concept has now grown beyond the confines of second-home ownership to include fractional rental and ownership options on boats, aircraft and even pets.

Caroline Hawkins, who lives in a manor house near Chippenham in Wiltshire, posted an advert for a fractional rental of the cottages in the grounds of her estate. ‘We sometimes use the cottages for friends when they come to stay, but then I thought about a fractional rental and the idea appealed. We already run events in the grounds of the house, and the money we raise goes towards the restoration of our historic gardens.’

Mrs Hawkins soon received 15 ‘really, really good responses’ from people interested in sharing the rental of the cottages. ‘The aim is now for the group of people who are sharing the cottage some of whom have never met to arrange among themselves which days they will use it and liaise with the housekeeper on cleaning and preparation arrangements. ‘It’s quite clubby, as the concept attracts the same type of people, which is rather nice, as you end up inviting them in for a drink and becoming friends’.

‘The key to making these fractional rentals work is to find like-minded people,’ asserts Miss Garrett. She’s published advice on how to lay the groundwork of a fractional rental relationship on her website (including tips on how to verify the identities and financial positions of prospective tenants). ‘You’ll want to leave things behind, and so will they, but if you ensure that you outline how you’ll address breakages, belongings and cleaning issues at the beginning, the system works. And there are so many upsides: the property is being used, not left empty for months on end, maintenance is easy and security is less of an issue.’

The small print

* If you receive a total rent of less than £4,250 in a tax year, you aren’t liable for tax on that income.

* If you receive rental income of more than £4,250, it’s your decision as to whether you pay tax on the profit you make from letting the room (the rental income less any expenses incurred) or pay tax on the amount of rent over £4,250.

* Yours2share.com sells templates of contracts for fractional rentals.

* Further information and advice on the legal questions is available on www.yours2share.com