AUSTIN (KXAN) — Wednesday afternoons can’t get here quick enough. It’s the day the Phillips-LeSueur family have family outings.
“We got to get them outside,” said Kate LeSueur laughing looking at her three kids ages 1, 2 and 4.
For a few hours, the sound of laughter and excitement take over. The family has their own little oasis.
“Splash pads are closed,” explained David Phillips. “We actually found this service… Googling around.”
Phillips rented a private backyard pool for his family for a few hours through Swimply.
The app or website lets renters put in their zip code or city and then browse a list of residential pools nearby. The costs range anywhere from $15 to $80 an hour.
“Our thought was to rent a house with a pool for a couple of days and this is… more affordable then that,” said Phillips. “It gets us out of the house and cools everybody down.”
Safe to rent during a pandemic?
A Swimply spokesperson said the company has 749 pool listings in Texas and 53 in the Austin area.
The service launched last summer, but cofounder Asher Weinberger said the company’s seen a big spike in listings and rentals during the pandemic — especially in Texas.
“It’s not just that we’re replacing the public pool which is now closed. We’re also replacing, I don’t know Chuck E. Cheese for birthday parties,” said Weinberger. “We have people who are looking to exercise — do aquatic therapy, physical therapy.”
Most listings book up to 10 guests.
Some hosts require masks when going inside the home to use the bathroom. Others provide portable restrooms, which they say are sanitized after all visits.
“We asked our hosts and remind them to be hyper-vigilant during this time,” explained Weinberger. “Extra wiping down of chairs or tables.”
The City of Austin said there are no plans to reopen any pools and splash pads at this time.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, or water playgrounds.
“Additionally, proper operation of these aquatic venues and disinfection of the water (with chlorine or bromine) should inactivate the virus,” said the agency online.
Hosting? Think about disinfecting
The Backer family understands coronavirus concerns. They started renting their pool about two months ago.
“We just built this beautiful pool/spa combo with views. Bar seating inside and outside of pool. Come have fun!!,” said the Backer’s listing on Swimply.
Their pool comes with a Hill Country view and costs $80 an hour to rent. The family said the space makes social distancing easy.
“We actually have quite a large deck space,” explained Rashell Backer. “So you know there’s a lot of room to roam.”
The Backer’s own Barton Springs Cleaning and have been keeping up with safety requirements.
“Our COVID-19 policies and procedures are in place as a business, but we bring that home with us as well with our rental of our pool,” explained Colin Backer.
Safety was also a priority for the Phillips-LeSueur family.
They’ve been keeping safe during the pandemic and were looking for something with little contact with others.
“You’re outside. We all brought our masks and the host had a mask, and she had all kinds of Clorox wipes in in her bathroom,” said LeSueur.
Risks of renting
Weinberger explained that a team reviews all listings and the company is doing general health and safety inspections in many pools. A spokesperson said this includes checking on water quality, pH balance and generally inspecting the pool area.
People renting are required to sign a liability waiver. Swimply’s terms of service includes a section on assumption of risk and waiver:
“Neither Swimply nor the Hosts is responsible for any accidents caused or incurred by you as a Guest or any of your Guests or invitees, related to swimming or otherwise. You hereby release, waive, discharge, and covenant not to sue Swimply or the Hosts for any injuries arising from or related to use of the Pool. You agree that some Listings may carry inherent risk, and by participating in such services, you choose to assume those risks voluntarily. For example, some Listings may carry risk of illness, bodily injury, disability, or death, and you freely and willfully assume those risks by choosing to participate in those Pools.”
Community Associations Institute, which gives guidance to homeowners associations across the state, urged Swimply hosts to check with their HOA, if they have one, before renting out their pools.
The non-profit explained to KXAN Investigator Arezow Doost that some HOAs haven’t even opened their neighborhood pools because of COVID-19 concerns.
“There are liability issues — there are traffic issues — there are a variety of issues that the community association might want to know about in order to approve that request for somebody to open their pool up to the public,” explained Dawn Bauman, Senior Vice President of Government Public Affairs with CAI.
The non-profit said 5.6 million Texans live in about 20,000 community associations.
Bauman explained that 35% of communities polled said expenses were higher than budgeted to open their pool, and that ultimately the costs trickle down to residents which some boards didn’t want to do.
“Like most other insurance products — pandemics are not covered. So, decisions related to pandemics and even lawsuits related to pandemics — an association would not be covered if someone were to file a suit against them for maybe getting COVID at their community pool,” said Bauman. “Attorneys… are continually encouraging boards to really contemplate whether they should open their pools or not because of that risk of liability.”
Bauman said a recent survey showed that in Texas, 71% of the pools were open compared to a national average of only 40%.
“When board of directors were looking at opening their pools one of the things that they’re looking at is how can we responsibly open our pool and comply with all of the regulations that are out there,” explained Bauman. “So, how do we comply with the local, the states and the federal regulations.”
Bauman explained that pools that have opened are by reservation only. They’re also not allowing guests, requiring masks and social distancing, along with residents bringing their own furniture.
Does your homeowner’s insurance cover renting a pool?
Swimply’s terms of service recommends hosts have insurance. Weinberger said the company is working on adding a $2 million insurance policy.
Speaking generally, Ben Gonzalez with the Texas Department of Insurance said, “Home owners should review their home insurance policy and talk to their agent or company before starting any rental activities.”
He pointed out that homeowners might not be covered if someone gets hurt on property.
Gonzalez also said that it’s not uncommon for a policy to exclude liability coverage for pools and warned that the, “policy could potentially be cancelled because of an increased hazard that was within your control.”
A financial splash
The Backer’s have made their pool rules clear in their listing including no littering, smoking and leaving the property in the same condition.
They said they’ve had no problems renting their pool so far and that it’s been a big help financially.
“We just thought we’d give this a try — to kind of cover some of those home improvement costs,” explained Colin Backer. “In the second week that we put it out there and just let anyone who wanted to rent it… rent it, we made almost $1,500 in that week.”
Weinberger said their goal for homeowners was to pay their pool maintenance costs, but now it’s helping pay mortgages.
“We have people reaching out to us on a daily basis saying, ‘Hey, due to COVID I lost my job. I was laid off… and you guys are literally my primary source of income right now,'” explained Weinberger.
Weinberger said he rents his own pool on the East Coast and just last month brought in around $15,000. He said hosts can make anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 a month.
“The main benefit: there’s privacy,” said Colin Backer. “The fact that you can do that with you and your loved ones and create lasting memories, in a time like this when most of those venues aren’t available right now, and so to be able to do that at a small fee.”
Weinberger said it’s not just pools in demand, but also private lakes, farms, home gyms and theaters. They’re working on launching a similar platform called Joyspace soon and are currently collecting listings.