You Can Now Monetize Your Pool ... Unless It Turns Out To Be Illegal
About two summers ago, then-19-year-old Bunim Laskin was looking for a way to entertain his 11 younger siblings. He knocked on the door of an elderly neighbor, who agreed to let him use the pool if he would chip in for the cost of maintaining it. Laskin spread the word around the neighborhood and soon, other wannabe swimmers were also clamoring for pool time.
“It was sort of a teenage project,” said Asher Weinberger, who teamed up with Laskin and helped grow the idea into Pools4You, which they launched last year as an “Airbnb for pools.”
The site has since relaunched as a more mature venture, Swimply.com. Swimply’s website launched in June and a mobile app went live this past week.
Weinberger said Swimply has thousands of pools available for rent already. Hosts set their rate, and Swimply takes a 15% fee. A glance at the site’s South Florida listings shows pools available for $32 per hour in Boca Raton and $150 in Miami Beach.
“Some people are making real money,” he said. “Some hosts are making over $10K per month.”
A host could theoretically charge $300 or $400 per hour for all-day pool parties with 50 people and be booked every Saturday and Sunday. Weinberger said he booked $1K of rentals for his own Long Island pool in 24 hours on the site. Swimply has raised $1.2M in seed funding so far, he said.
“We’re going to do a Series A come wintertime,” he said. While there are many home-sharing or ride-sharing platforms copying Airbnb, “the aquatic industry has not been touched.”
Weinberger, who had experience in e-commerce working for the menswear startup Twillory, said Swimply is teaming up with local pool companies to send out an inspector to do a 24-point check before a host’s pool can be listed. The pool companies will do inspections for free, considering it a sales lead and trying to sell maintenance service. Swimply can also help arrange port-o-potties for hosts who don’t want guests coming indoors.
As far as regulatory hurdles, Weinberger said “we have a bit of a wait-and-see approach.”
As governments are struggling to regulate all aspects of the sharing economy, from scooters to vacation homes, Swimply hasn’t been the target of much backlash so far, because, “we’re not disrupting an industry, unless you call the beach an industry,” he said.
However, last year, the mayor of Toms River, New Jersey, sought to nix Pools4You because it involved commercial activity in a residential neighborhood. Swimply’s fine print puts the onus on hosts for complying with laws.
“Toms River is singular place that was a problem," Weinberger said. His message to his hosts: “Do your own homework. We’re a platform. We don’t own these pools.”
State and local governments can have all sorts of regulations for public pools, regarding aspects like maintenance, sanitation, fencing, storage of chemicals and signage. The federal Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act requires public pools to have certain safety drains. The Americans With Disabilities Act can also apply. Florida’s Department of Health did not respond to a request for comment from Bisnow.
In Miami Beach, where regulators are cracking down on illegal Airbnb listings, Chief Deputy City Attorney Aleksandr Boksner said local ordinances impose specific legal obligations on property owners operating short-term rentals and that there are express limitations for the internet hosting platforms that list properties.
Boksner wrote in an email to Bisnow that the owner of the property would have to have a city business tax receipt and resort tax registration certificate, as well as be in a zoning district that allows transient rentals, to rent out a pool, since that zoning applies to "any portion of a residential premises."
“Equally important, a hosting platform is legally prohibited from displaying those listings for residential properties that fail to properly disclose (and clearly identify) the property owner’s City-issued business tax receipt and resort tax account registration number for the individual listing," he wrote. "Therefore, the City will consider any transient listing(s) for the utilization of a room(s), accessories, or portions of a residential structure that is part of a larger private, residential dwelling to be patently illegal, and in violation of the City’s Code of Laws and Ordinances pertaining to the unlawful short-term rental of the property.”
Insurance is also a concern. Weiberger said “liability was the first thing we looked at.”
Airbnb left hosts on their own regarding insurance until 2015, when it began providing free, automatic $1M secondary coverage for liability, which should cover claims if a homeowner's policy doesn't.
Initially, “the insurance industry didn’t know what to do with us,” Weinberger said, but Swimply is currently in talks with several insurers. As time goes on and they collect pool-sharing data, they expect to be able to offer coverage much like Airbnb’s.
"When it comes to liability, a waiver is an attempt to transfer risk to another party, but this does not fully eliminate responsibility from the pool owner," Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. Area Vice President Lisa Neumayer said. "Although it can help deter the pool renter from pursuing legal action, they can still file suit and it is up to the court to determine fault and damages.
"For example, if lack of maintenance or upkeep of the pool resulted in physical damage or bodily injury, this could fall back on the pool owner. We’ve seen waivers that essentially ‘release’ parties of any and all liability, but whether or not they would hold up in court is another story."
There are other considerations, like local business licenses or noise or parking regulations. Despite the risks, one pool owner, Ed Giannetto of Dix Hills, New York, told Bisnow that in two weeks on the site, he’s booked two small groups of about five people.
For groups of fewer than 12 people, he charges $115 per hour. For bigger groups, up to 25 people, $165. He said that he makes a few bucks but mostly enjoys sharing his pool, hot tub and volleyball court with the less fortunate.
“A lot of kids don’t have this opportunity," Giannetto said.
Weinberger thinks Swimply can professionalize the pool industry for all its stakeholders, from the absentee mansion owner who only uses his pool one month a year to the country’s “burnout” pool technicians who currently deal mostly in cash.
Monetizing pools will provide more incentive to keep pool chemistry and maintenance at ideal levels, and some day soon, people might even finance new pools through Swimply, paying off loans with the income.
“We will be able to upgrade the entire industry,” Weinberger said.