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Navigating Safety in the World of Short-Term Rentals: A Comprehensive Guide

The site of a fire in Old Montreal that killed six people staying in unlicensed short-term rentals is seen on March, 27, 2023. File photo by The Canadian Press/Ryan Remiorz

The allure of short-term rentals, exemplified by platforms like Airbnb, has revolutionized the way we travel. With their unique offerings, affordability, and convenience, these rentals have seen unprecedented growth. However, beneath the surface of this booming industry lies a crucial concern: safety. As the popularity of short-term rentals continues to rise, so do the numbers of deaths and injuries associated with these properties. It's vital for both hosts and guests to prioritize safety amidst this trend.

Understanding the Safety Landscape

Recent statistics underscore the urgency of this matter. In 2021, a staggering 57 percent of safety-related incidents in the US occurred within residential settings. Concurrently, short-term rentals have witnessed a rise in fatalities and injuries. Disturbingly, more than 100 children lost their lives due to drowning in pools associated with these properties in 2022. This grim reality emphasizes the dire need for heightened awareness and proactive safety measures.

In the United States alone, over 2 million short-term rentals collectively generated an estimated $62 billion in revenue in 2022 – a remarkable 25 percent increase from the previous year. This growth, however, presents challenges that extend beyond financial gain. Addressing insurance concerns, government oversight, and maintaining property safety standards becomes paramount.

Defining Safety: What to Seek

While aesthetics and cost often guide our choices, prioritizing safety when selecting short-term rentals is non-negotiable. Beyond the charm of a property, consider these essential precautions to guarantee fire and life safety:

1. **Fire Preparedness:** Ensure the property boasts working fire extinguishers and smoke detectors, ideally positioned for easy access. Regular testing and maintenance are critical.

2. **Clear Egress Paths:** Familiarize yourself with the property's layout. Guarantee there are unobstructed routes to exits, and verify that windows and doors are easily operable.

3. **Emergency Contacts:** Have the host's contact details and local emergency services accessible. This information can prove invaluable during unforeseen situations.

4. **Property Inspections:** Whenever possible, virtually or physically inspect the property before your stay. Identify potential hazards like faulty wiring or gas leaks.

5. **Safety Equipment:** Apart from fire-related precautions, ensure the property is equipped with first aid kits, emergency lighting, and pertinent safety signage.

Additional Steps for Enhanced Safety

In addition to the core safety measures mentioned, consider these extra precautions to guarantee a secure stay:

1. **Guest Feedback Review:** Prioritize properties with positive guest feedback, especially concerning safety. These insights offer valuable glimpses into a property's safety standards.

2. **Question Hosts:** Don't hesitate to inquire about safety measures, emergency protocols, and overall security. Hosts committed to safety will welcome your questions.

3. **Read the Details:** Thoroughly examine property listings and rental agreements. Pay particular attention to safety-related clauses, rules, or restrictions.

4. **Craft an Evacuation Plan:** Create a simple evacuation strategy for you and your companions. Identify exit points and designated assembly spots in case of an emergency.

Navigating Regulatory Challenges

The classification of short-term rentals within existing building codes has sparked considerable debate. For instance, the International Building Code (IBC) applies to transient residential occupancies, where stays last no more than 30 days. Yet, it's important to question whether short-term rentals are akin to hotels or residential homes.

Officials grapple with this ambiguity. For instance, some areas classify these rentals under the IBC, demanding stringent safety measures like fire sprinklers. However, enforcing these regulations becomes complex, particularly in older properties scattered across tourist hubs. The challenge lies in distinguishing the true nature of these rentals – transient accommodations or simply single-family houses temporarily leased.

Striking the Balance: Safety and Realism

As the debate on regulations continues, safety remains paramount. Irrespective of classification, adherence to basic safety measures is critical. These include functioning smoke alarms, accessible fire extinguishers, and well-lit egress paths. Collaboration between property owners, guests, and regulatory bodies is essential in cultivating a culture of safety.

Statistical Insights: Understanding the Numbers

The numbers speak volumes about the urgency of prioritizing safety in the realm of short-term rentals. The National Safety Council's data reveals a startling fact: nearly 57 percent of safety-related incidents in the US during 2021 occurred within residential settings. This sobering statistic underscores the need for heightened vigilance and a proactive approach to safety, especially within the context of short-term rentals.

Moreover, the year 2022 saw a tragic outcome that highlights the consequences of inadequate safety measures in these properties. Over 100 children tragically lost their lives due to drowning incidents in pools associated with short-term rental properties. This heart-wrenching reality serves as a stark reminder that a lack of proper safety precautions can have devastating effects, making it imperative for both hosts and guests to prioritize safety above all else.

Against the backdrop of these alarming figures, the exponential growth of short-term rentals becomes all the more significant. With over 2 million properties in the US alone generating a staggering $62 billion in revenue in 2022, it's evident that this industry has become an integral part of the travel landscape. However, this growth trajectory brings with it a unique set of challenges that encompass insurance considerations, governmental oversight, and the maintenance of robust safety standards.


In the dynamic landscape of short-term rentals, balancing regulations with practicality is key. Ongoing dialogue, heightened awareness, and a commitment to safety will shape a future where travelers revel in enriching experiences without compromising their well-being. As we embrace the world of short-term rentals, let safety be our steadfast companion.


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