An article in the National Fire Protection Association’s NFPA Journal discusses the challenges that arise from a huge increase in Airbnb and other short-term property rentals. How are these unique dwellings regulated when it comes to life safety systems?
The answer is a complex and not-completely-formed one.
The NFPA article starts with a story about a couple renting a very-off-the-grid cabin and waking in the middle of the night to find the wood burning stove in the tiny space had started their bed on fire. Creosote build-up in the chimney that snaked from the first floor up through the second floor, passing barely a foot from the bed, caused a fire that quickly filled the air with smoke and fumes. A fire extinguisher on the property that might have contained the fire barely had any life left and the few squirts that came out were only enough to enable the renters to flee.
Airbnb reports that over 2 million renters stay in properties in 65,000 cities every night, with 4 million active listings in 191 countries. A message on their site says this is all possible because of “trust”.
However, analysis of 121,00 of roughly 600,000 Airbnb listings in the United States showed:
- 1 in 5 didn’t indicate the property had smoke alarms
- Almost half of the listings didn’t have carbon monoxide detectors
- 58% didn’t have fire extinguishers
It’s troubling information considering most fire- and CO-related deaths occur in residential properties.
Part of the problem is not knowing how to classify these short-term rental properties, which simply aren’t similar enough to a hotel to be classified and regulated as one. An example is given of a 15 unit building renting out all 15 spaces through Airbnb, essentially creating a hotel while bypassing all the rules for one. The trouble is further exacerbated by the wide range of rental arrangements, from a single bedroom rented out in a family home to the rental of the entire property.
Until clear answers for short term rental regulation are discovered, the wisest course of action is to educate both renters and hosts about the importance of fire safety features, including smoke and CO alarms. Renters should take on the burden of checking a rental property’s safety features, such as checking batteries on smoke alarms and checking the location of fire extinguishers.