In March 2018, an Iowa couple and their two children died while vacationing in Tulum, Mexico. The suspected cause: asphyxiation from carbon monoxide (CO) released by a malfunctioning water heater at the condominium they rented through the online site HomeAway.
This was not the first deadly incident in Mexico. In October 2017, two Argentinian women died of injuries suffered in a gas explosion at their rented beach apartment in Playa del Carmen.
Such risks—which are not confined to rental properties in foreign countries—were recently highlighted in a paper in the journal Injury Prevention. It calculated the prevalence of safety amenities at 120,691 rental properties in 16 U.S. cities listed on Airbnb, the leading online “peer-to-peer” accommodations service.
Overall, nearly 80 percent of the rental listings described having smoke detectors; 58 percent, CO detectors; 42 percent, fire extinguishers; and 36 percent, first-aid kits. Strikingly, only 29 percent of Airbnb rentals in New York City reported having fire extinguishers, while just 37 percent of those in Austin listed CO detectors.
Unlike hotels, home rental properties are not uniformly regulated and may not be in compliance with national, state, or local safety laws. New York City, for example, requires that CO detectors be installed in all apartments, but only 56 percent of Airbnb hosts there reported having them in their properties.
As the authors also pointed out, there is “no validation of the accuracy of the host’s reporting of the presence of the selected amenities or if they are in working order.” The data were collected a few years ago and so may not reflect current trends.
Some cities like Portland, Oregon, require hosts to have smoke and CO detectors in order to register asan Airbnb venue—and more cities are enacting tighter regulations. Airbnb’s website says “All hosts should install working smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors” and encourages them to meet local safety regulations and update their rental descriptions to reflect this. But only properties listed under Airbnb’s “Plus Collection” are verified as having them.
Bottom line: Even as cities and rental sites step up their safety policies, there is no way to enforce them 100 percent. Thus, if you are renting a vacation property, either in the U.S. or abroad, make sure it has safety features.