Homeowners in Ottawa and Gatineau have signed up to rent out their swimming pools for anywhere from $30 to more than $100 an hour, but lawyers float liability concerns as a reason to hesitate.
The online service Swimply has seen brisk business since it launched in 2019 as the COVID-19 pandemic has left many people seeking safe outdoor activities close to home.
Sarah Horton became one of the first hosts to sign up in the Ottawa area two years ago, as she has welcomed guests to her backyard pool in the south-end community of Barrhaven.
The Grade 3 teacher saw an ad on Facebook and suggested the idea to her husband, who was initially reluctant. The pandemic then arrived and he relented.
"When COVID hit, we had some financial strain in the family. [Swimply] was a great income for us and continues to be this year," said Horton.
She says a typical summer day could see up to five or six bookings of her pool, especially during days like last week's heat wave, until as late as 9:00 p.m. when the city sees its longest days.
"I love hearing [customers'] stories. We've celebrated birthdays here, anniversaries. ... Last week, we celebrated a two-year cancer-free party and that was really inspiring," said Horton.
Liability concerns in Canada
The gig economy has boosted services like this one, which some call Airbnb for pools, but personal injury lawyer Russel Molot says hosts could be on the hook for millions if someone using the pool suffered a serious injury.
Molot suggested pool owners "could be sitting on a grenade" for 10 or 15 years if a child was injured while using their pool, as parents could seek damages once the child turns 18.
"All of a sudden you find yourself in receipt of a letter from another lawyer saying, 'You hosted our client's child back in 2021. He is now suffering from mental deficits as a result of oxygen deprivation as the result of swimming in your pool'," said Molot.
Canadian hosts also face an issue their American counterparts do not.
Swimply offers $1 million in liability insurance for American hosts, but not Canadians. The company said it hopes to introduce the coverage in Canada in 2022.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada strongly advises homeowners to contact their insurance provider before starting this kind of host rental agreement.
"It's in your best interest to let your insurer know before any potential damage or injury occurs while your place is rented," according to a statement.
City has had no issues
Horton says her insurance provider will not cover her pool rentals, but she is trying to arrange coverage with another company.
She also plans to expand the pool rental service to add catering next year as a way to make extra money.
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The City of Ottawa has not seen any conflicts with Swimply, according to program manager David Wise.
"The use of an on-site swimming pool for a fee-based service such as this appears closest by analogy to a home-based business," Wise wrote in a statement.
He says the land used by Swimply hosts has to remain residential and not violate parking requirements or nuisance bylaws, as well as provincial building, public health and safety requirements.