There’s a deluge of regulations that helps shine a light on what property managers and hosts must do to keep their guests safe.
But it’s often the things you least expect that do harm to customers and reputations.
We regularly hear of incidents ranging from the surprising to the tragic that were wholly avoidable. What emerges a lot of the time is that, for the hosts responsible for the properties, safety checks had become a bit of a nuisance and a tick-box exercise. This is when dangers get missed.
It’s important for hosts to take the time to appreciate what makes each of their properties unique in terms of their layout and how they are being used.
Here are my top vacation rental safety risks that hosts and managers don’t see coming:
1. Ceiling fans
Unbelievably, there are hosts out there who think nothing of putting bunk beds into rooms with ceiling fans. Most of us are never troubled by ceiling fans but, in this situation, the threat can be severe. Children assume that you’ll only put them in a safe environment where they can go wild, but they end up playing with what is, in effect, a small helicopter rotor spinning inches from their faces. The ends of the rotors are spinning at up to 80km/h, and the injuries inflicted can be life-changing.
A surprisingly high number of accidents happen before guests even make it into the property. The reason for this is that many managers and hosts may have only ever visited the rental during the day. As soon as darkness falls, new hazards emerge in places where there isn’t sufficient lighting. Many of these tumbles aren’t reported, so the problem can persist for years, but you only need one bad accident to have a serious insurance claim on your hands. Hosts and managers literally don’t see this coming and this blind spot contributes to the fact that 83 percent of insurance claims in short-term rentals are slips, trips, and falls according to Proper Insurance.
3. Furniture Tip-Overs
While hotels are often furnished with furniture that is lower in height to prevent guests, and particularly children, from tipping it over, short-term rentals are a mixed bag. Most these days will be furnished with inexpensive, lightweight (often flatpack) furniture, which makes it even easier for a child to pull them over on themselves. This has been known to happen when they are climbing furniture to get a better snap of themselves for their social media, plug a video game console into a TV, or reset the internet modem.
4. Deck Collapses
Deck collapses are a really big problem in the US and Canada where this Instagram-friendly feature crops up on millions of properties, particularly in areas where ground floors need to be protected from seasonal flooding and meltwater. I was recently in Colorado, viewing a house that sleeps 16 people. I immediately noticed the first-story deck was not capable of carrying so many people, and the owner was horrified when I showed him how, with just three nails pulled out, the whole thing fell off the side of the house. So many people don’t understand how dangerous these elevated decks are. They can actually only carry 50 pounds per square foot in good condition and have a lifespan of only 15 to 20 years, as they are constantly exposed to the elements. These collapses happen constantly. I encourage every host with a deck to have them inspected every five years and clearly signpost the maximum load for all guests to see.
5. Cutlery and Knives
You might think having sharp knives in the kitchen would be a hazard, but really the opposite is true. Vacation rentals are notorious for having the dullest knives, and it’s these blunt instruments that make cooking much more dangerous. They encourage people to cut with more force and, when blades slip, that’s when some pretty nasty cuts occur. This is a part of routine property maintenance that nearly all hosts miss.
Kids love exploring, which is why the number one emergency phone call for those staying in short-term rentals is for poison control, according to The Washington Post. Many hosts don’t realize that a new environment is incredibly exciting for young children, and the first thing they want to do is explore. They will open every drawer and every cupboard to see what’s inside and, all too often, they will put things in their mouths that they shouldn’t. Hosts and managers assume children will always be under adult supervision, but the safest approach is actually to assume the opposite. With this new perspective, you’ll see the dangers within your rental in a whole new light, and you’ll start making better decisions about what chemicals you leave at the property and where.
7. If it Rests, it Rusts
And, finally, even I’m not immune to the occasional mishap. On a recent visit to an Airbnb in Akumal, Mexico, I was struck by a falling fire extinguisher that left me bruised and with a cut to my hand. The concrete where the wall tie for the fire extinguisher bracket was fixed had given way, so a gentle knock was all it took to bring it crashing down. It clearly hadn’t been maintained or checked in a long time and may well have been useless in the event of a fire. Adding insult to injury, I found no first-aid kit in the property and had to wrap my hand in toilet paper.
For hosts and property managers, ensuring the safety of guests is a top priority, but it’s often the smaller maintenance jobs that get overlooked. While local governments across the US are implementing more robust safety requirements for short-term rentals, it’s up to property managers to ensure that properties have been carefully prepared, cleaned, and reviewed to guarantee guest safety. My advice? Invest in a home safety course, pre-empting risks with proper safety checklists may feel like a full-time job, but that’s because it is.
VRMA members benefit from safety courses with Breezeway as part of their membership. Read more about that here.
Justin Ford is the director of safety and certification programs at Breezeway, the award-winning property operations platform, where he helps short-term rental managers and owners maintain the safety and quality of their vacation rental properties. Prior to Breezeway, Ford co-founded On the Water in Maine in 2006 and grew the company into the highest-grossing vacation rental company in New England. A former member of the US Coast Guard and Rockport Fire Department, Ford travels worldwide to share his expertise on vacation rental safety. He was recognized as one of the Top 20 Vacation Rental Consultants of 2021 by VRTech, and he accepted the Excellence in Safety & Security Award at the Altos in London in December 2021.