Airbnb: where does fire safety come into play?
Airbnb has been a phenomenal success and is now valued at more than £6bn, but where do peer-to-peer sites like this fit in with health and safety regulations?
Airbnb, a peer-to-peer site, which matches those with accommodation to let with holiday makers and business travellers has a network of close to 1 million properties across 190 countries.
Whether you’re looking for a single room for a night in Manchester or a six bedroom villa in Portugal for a week, Airbnb can offer affordable accommodation.
However, how safe is it?
David Weston, chief executive of the Bed & Breakfast Association argues that peer-to-peer platforms like Airbnb have been “handed a complete opt-out from the regulations that apply to B&Bs”.
“There are big questions unanswered, for example on insurance. I doubt the insurance industry is interested in providing cover for paying guests in people’s homes.
“B&Bs are often just three or four rooms in a home. There are endless regulations for things like fire doors and allergens, however.”
Simon Ince, head of business resilience at BB7, believes those renting out rooms have an obligation to provide safe accommodation and need to take fire safety into account.
“They are not home swaps, which in my opinion are different,” he says. “These are properties where you pay for staying.:
Co-founder of Airbnb Brian Chesky has claimed that he wants a level playing field. Being regulated, he argues, would be a step to recognising them as a contender.
And in theory, they are regulated.
The Daily Telegraph reported in May 2014, then fire minister Brandon Lewis confirming that the Fire Safety Order “applies to all those offering accommodation to paying guests irrespective of the business model being used to market the accommodation.”
However, Lewis then went on to say that enforcing the law on UK properties like Airbnb is virtually impossible.
Simon Ince has argued that there is a drive in Europe to use consumer protection legislation to drive up fire safety standards for tourist accommodation.
“The main driver for change is that people should not be paying to be put at risk from unsafe accommodation,” he says.
“As this is a transaction for a short-term let, consumer rights would in my opinion apply – i.e. the accommodation should be safe; no one should be paying to be put in danger.
“Therefore these Airbnbs are a business and should be subject to the same standards as other businesses; they should have a fire-risk assessment and be as safe as can reasonably be expected.”
The question is: would a mandatory fire-risk assessment on the thousands of hosts who rent out their homes on Airbnb for just a few weeks a year be a deterrent for potential letters?
Alan Cox, an experienced, influential voice on fire safety, says “the guidance is clear. It appears that the industry would like to be regulated but it is unlikely that the EU will do anything about it at this point in time.”
Alan has previously written for SHP online on the subject of hotel fire and safety in tourism accommodation across Europe, where he asked how we can ensure the accommodation meets the standards required by individual countries and the European Union.
Fire and rescue services
Bob Docherty, a former firefighter who now runs Flamerisk Safety Solutions and recently spoke about the Airbnb issue on the ITV news, says that fire and rescue services could enforce regulations in this area more effectively.
“In my opinion, Airbnb are subject to the RRFSO but the guys in F&RS for some reason don’t appear to see this as a priority,” he says. “I know their resources are spread thin but they need to look at where the real risk is.”
“They seem too busy focusing their attention on places like care homes and similar, especially those with a good record of fire precautions.”
With domestic property accounting for a majority of fire-related deaths, Airbnb surely warrants some attention, though the F&RS obviously has only limited resources.
Nevertheless, continues Docherty: “Last year a fire an F&RS pursued a small holiday let owner doggedly through the courts and won their case. If they can do that, then my argument is that they have enough resources, time and motivation to do the same with properties similar to those of Airbnb.”
Free smoke detectors
Health and safety guidance, including fire-prevention, is included on the ‘responsible hosting‘ section of Airbnb.
Additionally, in the UK the company says it is planning to provide free smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, emergency safety cards and first-aid kits to hosts.
The site’s terms and conditions, however, lays responsibility for regulatory adherance squarely at the door of the hosts.
Anyone hosting on Airbnb can learn more about their fire safety and other responsibilities in the government document called Do you have paying guests?
This article originally appeared on IFSEC Global.
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