Swimply creates service problems, municipal concerns
Pool service pros who maintain vacation homes in destination cities know these accounts require two to three visits a week. Abuse of these pools leaves them looking rough, even on a good day. Treat these like a typical once-a-week residential, and now you’re hating life.
This is not something many service companies encounter — it’s just a select few in vacay central. Wouldn’t it be a gross miscarriage of justice if a pool you maintain could become a rental at any given moment?
Let’s say a longtime customer, Al G. Bloom, wants to turn his pool into a means of generating revenue via Swimply, the Airbnb-like pool-sharing site. Now people without swimming pools in Mr. Bloom’s community can easily rent his backyard pool by the hour. A win-win, right? Not so much for the pool guy or gal.
Mr. Bloom isn’t taking this on as a once-in-a-blue-moon pocket cash opportunity. His kids have grown and moved away, so if the sun’s out, the Bloom family pool is available to let. This backyard oasis designed for a bather load of five is now pushing 20 to 40 in an average week.
I’m sorry, Mr. Bloom, but you have crossed over into Commercial Zone.
To get a better idea of what this entails, I listed my pool on the site. It is a super user-friendly app and only takes about five minutes for your pool to become available to the public. The terms and conditions state that you must own the pool you are renting out.
However, proof of pool ownership or identification of the host pool landlord (Pool Lord?) is not required to start renting. There is an option to become a verified host, which is encouraged, and Swimply does ask for such credentials, stating that “Verified hosts receive more bookings and quicker payments!”
Swimply is a neat idea that could generate income at a time when the sharing economy continues to gain popularity. Maybe it’s the misguided youth within me that thinks all ‘Pool Lords’ should be verified, as the potential for someone to rent a vacationing neighbor’s pool does exist.
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The terms and conditions do address safety, stating the host is responsible to maintain water chemistry, a pool barrier with a locking gate, ‘no lifeguard on duty’ signage and a drain cover. There is also a slide and diving board warning. In the registration process, Swimply explains that $1 million insurance coverage is in place.
But now you have a public pool with insufficient equipment, lack of automation and substandard flow rates on a body of water that may or may not be Virginia Grahame Baker Act compliant. Some states are taking action. In April of last year, Wisconsin told the pool rental app that residential pools on its site must meet the same criteria as the state’s public pools. However, Wisconsin regulators quickly back peddled when Swimply threatened the state with a lawsuit.
As far as the Minnesota Health Department is concerned, the moment a pool is listed on the app, that pool becomes a commercial pool and must adhere to the Department of Health’s public pool codes. This includes but is not limited to having a trained operator on-site; health department inspections; and the pool must be built to current public pool construction code. Minnesota Swimply hosts were sent letters this past August and given the option to remove their swimming pools from that site or face non-compliance fines of $10,000 if not in adherence to the DOH pool code. Wowza!
It’s also not going well for Swimply hosts in Denver. According to Department of Community Planning and Development spokeswoman Laura Swartz, Denver does not allow residential pools to be used commercially. “Moreover, there are several health and safety regulations in place for public swimming facilities that do not apply to residential pools,” Swartz told the Denver Post.
I have my concerns, but not because I’m a Swimply hater. The same standards municipalities are applying to homeowners renting pools on Swimply should apply to the vacation home rentals mentioned earlier. The purpose of the public pool code in a state is to protect the public. Once the public is paying to play in your backyard pool, it’s no different than a hotel or motel pool.
There is too much risk here. When we talk about the potential of unsafe water conditions, turbidity, waterborne zoonoses, entrapment and more, the potential for disaster seems high. Even if each homeowner took necessary training to become a certified pool/spa service technician as the code requires, those construction factors will be crippling and cost prohibitive.
I do not know if other states will join in mandating that rental pools are subject to public pool code, or if Minnesota and the city of Denver will back down as Wisconsin did. Swimply has an argument here with vacation homes currently not being held to the same standard. But for me, the potential challenges in maintaining water quality alone on one of these vacation rentals or shared pools is a hard pass.
Now I just have to figure out how to delete my pool listing on the app. Ugh!
*The views, thoughts and opinions expressed belong solely to the author, and not necessarily PoolPro or its employees.