Editor’s note: CharlotteFive’s Laurie Larsh contributed to this story.
When Samantha Flanigan and Shane Richards, a couple from New York City, visited Charlotte for Flanigan’s birthday, Flanigan wanted to visit a pool. She came across a site called Swimply, which rents private pools by the hour. It was close to their Airbnb, so they decided to check it out.
The pool, named “Urban Retreat,” on the Swimply website, is nestled in Doug Casteen and his wife’s primly landscaped backyard. The rental also offers a pool house, for an extra charge. Two waterfalls provide a soothing ambiance for guests while they recline on the lounge chairs.
Swimply, an app for renting private pools by the hour, was launched by CEO Bunim Laskin in 2019. It has since taken off in the United States, Canada and Australia, with 8 pool rentals listed in Charlotte.
“I was bragging about the app to everybody… I’m a fan, because it’s a cool concept,” Flanigan said.
Your pool, your rules
Listing your pool on Swimply takes less than five minutes: Upload a few photos, add a brief description, set your price and limits, and you’re good to go.
Casteen has been on Swimply for around two months after hearing about it from a neighbor. His kids are at camp most of the day, so they weren’t using the pool much in the daytime.
“We didn’t build the pool to make money… (but) it was sitting vacant during the day, so we thought, why not make a little side money on it?” Casteen said. He only rents it out from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on the weekdays and over the last two months, he has earned about $1,000 dollars.
Potential swimmers can browse the website or app to find nearby pool listings. Each pool has a profile with photos, information about amenities, prices, and available timings. Scroll to the bottom of the profile to read reviews from previous guests.
Hosts and swimmers communicate and process transactions through the app, which charges a 15% service fee on the host’s earnings from the booking. Pools in Charlotte are priced between $50 to $60 per hour.
People use the pools for all kinds of activities, including family fun days, pool dates, serious swimming training, filming music videos and even swimwear photoshoots.
Flanigan and Richards spent their hour paddling around the pool, racing across its width and taking selfies with an underwater camera.
Neither of them are confident swimmers, and they noted that offering swim lessons could be a great addition to the app.
Is this weird?
Inviting strangers to hang out in your backyard is not for everyone.
“It’s a little strange,” said Casteen. “My wife is a little more comfortable with it. I’m a little more reserved.”
Some customers have reservations, too. “My girlfriend is somewhat concerned with privacy considering the owners might be creeps and peeping,” wrote a Reddit user under the alias samessies last month.
Other users on the subreddit argued that it would be no different than going to a beach or public pool.
Casteen pulls a curtain across his back door to give the guests privacy.
Hosts aren’t required to be in their homes when guests come over. When his guests arrived, Casteen welcomed them and pointed out the bathrooms in the pool house before leaving to run some errands.
Speaking of bathrooms, hosts are not required to provide toilets. Some allow people to use in-house bathrooms. Others who have outdoor bathrooms or pool houses will allow guests to use those.
“We’ve had nothing but people respecting our stuff. It’s been a good experience so far,” Casteen said.
To register your pool on Swimply, you need to be at least 21 years old and pass background checks for criminal records and proof of identity. You have to own the pool you are renting out, which must meet health and safety requirements such as; maintenance of water treatment, installed drain covers, and providing notice of no lifeguard on duty.
There doesn’t appear to be any standardized process for making sure new pools meet the health and safety requirements. “There were no visits, no facetimes, no anything,” Casteen said.
After they hosted their first guest, Casteen received a text from Swimply saying the pool had been verified.
In April, Wisconsin regulators told Swimply that pools offered for rent would have to be treated like public swimming pools, and thus would have to obtain a license and meet commercial code. Swimply has pushed back on this, saying it doesn’t apply to their business model.
Having a pool, sadly, is inherently risky. Injury liability risks get even higher when you add commercial profits into the mix.
Private pool owners have been sued for tens of millions of dollars after someone drowned in their pool. Even without “paying guests”, a pool owner can be liable for a drowning in their pool if they don’t have a fence around it, for example.
Gaps in Swimply’s insurance coverage may create risks for hosts. Though hosts are eligible for up to $1 million in host liability insurance coverage, Swimply’s plan does not cover injuries arising out of alcohol consumption, nor those related to the use of amenities such as pool inflatables and trampolines. Injuries occurring outside of booked and paid reservation times aren’t covered, either.
Swimply’s property damage protection of up to $10,000 doesn’t cover losses arising from the theft of stolen property, nor damages arising outside of booking times.
“A homeowners insurance policy will not cover you if there is an injury or death if they are a ‘paying’ guest. Like any other sharing program, this is considered a business,” Loretta Worters, VP of Media Relations for the Insurance Information Institute, told The Observer.
If a guest who’s had one too many beers slips on a loose arm floaty and hurts their back, their host could be in for an expensive, uninsured legal battle.
“Imagine one of your ‘guests’ suing you for millions of dollars because they slipped and fell in your pool and are now a quadriplegic? Or a parent sues because their child has drowned? This is a huge liability risk to take for the small price of making a few dollars,” Worters said.
It is important to contact your home insurer to let them know you are planning to rent out your pool, Worters said. The insurer may be able to offer a commercial policy, with the price varying depending on the nature of your business.
“If you don’t tell your insurer that you are renting out and there is an accident, it is likely your homeowners insurance policy would not pay because it was fraudulent. Or they might drop you and/or charge you rates for the time you were a commercial establishment,” Worters said. “So it’s not a good idea to do that, especially from a liability perspective and if someone is injured on your property, you could be held liable and it could impact your assets.”
Don’t have a pool? Rent your garage
Pools and recreational areas aren’t the only things bringing in extra income around the Queen City — renting unused storage space is also proving quite lucrative. Stache storage started as a way to give college students a cheaper alternative to storing items over the summer and has turned into a booming business helping users save money and hosts monetize free space.
“I went to college out in California after coming out of the Air Force and I saw what Airbnb was doing for living spaces and thought, ‘Why not give college students a way to save money on storage space?’” said Mike Anderson, co-founder and CEO. “Our hosts provide everything from garages and sheds to driveways and empty lots — and at rates that are 20-40% cheaper than other storage options.”
Stache renters range from individuals looking to park antique cars to small business owners who aren’t quite ready to open a commercial space but need storage beyond what their home can provide.
For hosts, their unused space can be an unanticipated source of income. Charlotte resident Chanel Asceline told WBTV that she makes $600 per month renting her detached garage to a small business owner. Patrick Osborne of Nashville has had similar success.
“I have space on a large vacant property that wasn’t being used. Because of COVID, there were a lot of Nashville touring musicians who had their operations grounded to a halt. They have a ton of trailers and equipment that they bring on the road with them and suddenly they weren’t going anywhere. So I’ve rented out my land to them — it’s local, it’s cheap for them and I’m making enough to cover my property taxes on the land,” Osborne said.
Renters can go online to see the spaces available through Stache or utilize its “stress-free storage” option, where users input the items that need to be stored and indicate the area they live in, and Stache identifies a host and arranges for pick up of materials the next day.
Access to Stache spaces is dictated by hosts — some allow for 24/7 access while others require appointments or 24 hours notice. All hosts are covered by a $1 million general liability policy and renters are covered up to $25K. For the safety of all involved, background checks are run on both hosts and renters.
One other reason to “Stache” your stuff? As part of its corporate motto, Stache is committed to giving back to the community. Ten percent of all revenue goes to local charities with an emphasis on cancer.
To find out how much you could make on your free space, simply input your space and your zipcode on Stache’s website calculator.
Coming soon: Joyspace
Some people don’t like swimming and don’t need a place to stash their stuff, but they might enjoy playing tennis or hosting garden parties. The creators of Swimply have a new app named Joyspace in the works that expands on the idea of renting private spaces by the hour to include amenities like tennis courts, “majestic backyards” and docked boats.
The app is yet to go live and has not announced a release date.