Does renting your pool make it public?
Last year, swimming pool owner Melissa Reilly made $22,000 in just three months renting out her pool.
In 2019, she heard about a new website called Swimply that facilitates renting out backyard pools to strangers, and she decided to make a profile, advertising her pool in Long Island, New York. Summer of 2019 brought a modest income, with just two to three bookings a week. But all of that changed during the pandemic, as people sought safe outdoor spaces they could enjoy with their families. She found herself booked four to five times a week, and at $125 per hour, she was making about $7,000 a month.
“When I saw how much we made, I couldn't believe it,” Reilly said. “That was one crazy summer to make that much by just sitting in our house while others have a great time in our pool,” Reilly said.
In Los Angeles, California, Cooky Bali and her husband, Alain, rent out their backyard oasis for $63 an hour during the week and $70 on weekends, and they include the use of their barbeque and offer free drinks.
Cooky said when COVID hit, demand exploded, and in the past two years, they’ve raked in $37,000, enabling them to install solar heaters to cut down on the cost of pool heating.
Swimply stories like these are a dime a dozen.
According to Swimply Vice President of Growth, Sonny Mayugba, the pool host determines the hourly rate, which typically ranges between $15 to $100 per hour, with an average hourly rate of $45. And if you can get enough traffic, it can really add up.
“We have hosts making a hefty income from renting out pools, including one who’s made [more than] $110K, a retired teacher who made almost $50,000 last year and a couple who has made $18,000 in just a few months,” said the company in a statement to the Advance/SILive.com.
Inspired by stories such as these, Minnesota pool owners Ed Piechowski and Sean Ryan decided to list their St. Paul pool, and they found that people were willing to pay top dollar for a few hours in their pool. That was, until they received a letter from the Minnesota Department of Health, notifying them that their listing through the Swimply app makes their pool a public pool, requiring a license and plan review.
“Because you are advertising this pool for use by the public, we would not consider it a true private residential pool,” the letter stated. Ryan and Piechowski face penalties up to $10,000 if they don’t comply with Minnesota statutes and take down their listing from the app.
According to Minnesota statute, the inspection costs of a public pool are $1,500, and a public pool license fee is $355. The license must be renewed on an annual basis, and the pool must be inspected daily by a licensed pool operator.
And Minnesota is not the only state that is in conflict with Swimply. Similar issues with Swimply took place in New York in 2020, and this year, Swimply threatened to file a lawsuit against the state of Wisconsin if the state didn’t back down from requiring public pool licensing and construction requirements for backyard pools listed on the Swimply app.
This August, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection notified attorneys for Swimply that most pools offered for rent would not have to meet those higher standards.
“However, whether any particular pool would be subject to public pool licensing requirements would depend on the facts of the situation for each individual pool,” the agency said.
Listing pools on the Swimply app is currently not allowed in Denver, Colorado.
Laura Swartz, a spokesperson for Planning and Development with the City and County of Denver, says renting out a private pool is not allowed for a couple of reasons.
Swimply website. www.swimply.com “A commercial pool rental is going to be a much higher impact — zoning codes look at that much more carefully — and so, you’ve got things like noise and parking impacts. You also have a number of health and safety regulations,” Swartz said.
When the agency receives a complaint that a pool owner is renting out their pool, the city inspector goes to the house and educates the homeowner on what the city allows. After that, they will fine you $150, a fine that goes up after each visit.
For jurisdictions that don’t allow renting private pools to the public, the issue has to do with safety concerns.
But beyond facing administrative fines and noncompliance fees for code violations in areas that disallow renting private pools to the public, personal injury lawyers say that across the country, the legal ramifications will be very severe if anything should go wrong.
Private pool owners have been sued tens of millions of dollars after someone drowned in their pool, and those weren’t even paying customers.
The platform does have an insurance program that covers $1 million in liability, but this is only a mere fraction of what a potential injury or death might cost a homeowner.
Darcy Merkur, a personal injury lawyer with Thomson Rogers law firm, said the $1 million in liability amounts to peanuts.
“If I was consulted by someone who was injured at a swimming pool, I would sue the homeowner”, Merkur said. “It doesn't matter if they have an airtight rental agreement, we would absolutely implicate the homeowner... and those cases are often quantified in the $10-million range.”
And while some hosts require pool renters to sign a waiver releasing them from all responsibility in the event of an accident, lawyers worth their salt can run circles around such agreements.
Merkur said that waivers might help in the event of a lawsuit, but they aren’t bulletproof.
“Lawyers like us get around them all the time,” Merkur said. “Renting out your pool, as a side hobby, is not advisable from a liability perspective at all.”
Furthermore, Swimply’s plan does not cover injuries arising out of alcohol consumption nor those related to the use of amenities such as pool inflatables and trampolines.
If a guest has a few beers, trips over a pool floaty and hurts their back, the host could be in for an expensive, uninsured legal battle.
Injuries occurring outside of booked and paid reservation times aren’t covered, either.
Loretta Worters, VP of Media Relations for the Insurance Information Institute, doesn’t think it’s worth it.
“This is a huge liability risk to take for the small price of making a few dollars,” Worters said.
Then there’s the host’s property to consider. Swimply offers property damage protection of up to $10,000, but that doesn’t cover losses arising from theft or damages occurring after booking times.
So, thinking about renting out your pool? Better think long and hard about that.