STR Safety in 2024: Regulations, Technology & Trends with Justin Ford (Episode 345)

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Sarah 00:00

Hello, welcome back for another great episode. My name is Sarah Karakaian. 

Annette 00:03

I’m Annette Grant. And together we are–

Both Annette & Sarah 00:05

Thanks for Visiting. 

Sarah 00:07

Let’s kick off this episode like we do every week, and that is sharing one of you are incredible listeners who is using our hashtag on Instagram, #STRShareSunday. We are looking for who is using that hashtag, and then we are sharing you on our Instagram on Sundays. Get it? But also here on the podcast, to our entire email list. Annette, who was sharing this week.

Annette 00:26

This week we are sharing at staynplay_branson. It’s stay, the letter n, play_branson, and this property, the owner loves board games. So it only seemed fitting for that to be the theme. They have over 50 games available, 2 Nintendo switches. The first thing I thought of, I have to admit, is how do you keep track of all these pieces? And what if a game piece goes missing?

Sarah 00:55

I’m sure they’ve got it down. 

Annette 00:56

I’m sure that’s on your inspection list, to check each and every piece of the games. But I love this because they have all their board games throughout the home, but they have a main area where they are. And they’ve actually used the actual board of the games, turned it into art. And so I think that was just really clever. And obviously, this is super family friendly property. 

Annette 01:17

So some of those Nintendo Switches are inside the bedrooms where the children will sleep. But I love that they went with something they enjoy, and their avatar hopefully enjoys the games too. And really just imagine having your family stay there and playing a game that maybe for the first time or a game that you played growing up. I think it’s a really great way for the guests to connect.

Sarah 01:44

It’s such a cute way to stand out as well. Pick something small that’s meaningful to you that you’ll be passionate about sharing with your guests, and go with it. Run with it. Annette, I also like how they’ve shared members of their team.

Annette 01:59

Yeah, it’s a great way to definitely connect. And then the thing about this too is there are so many ways that then your team can repost. Let’s say you’re sharing some of the games. Maybe you tag the gaming company, they repost, but I’d love to StayNPlay. It’s a great play on words. And they are just crushing it. We thank you for using that. 

Annette 02:19

And maybe this is an offer to– maybe you don’t have to have 50 games, but maybe you’re going through your quarter and you’re like, what can I add to my property that could just give it a little something, maybe surprise and delight for the guests that check in? So maybe it is adding– I know monopoly does a lot of different cities that are city specific. 

Annette 02:39

Maybe you could add a puzzle or two, but something that your guests could enjoy when they’re there, and very low investment, but definitely could be hours of entertainment for your guests. So StayNPlay, well done. I want to know do you really know how to play all 50 of those games? You are a board game lover. So maybe you do. And sidenote, I know in Columbus, that is one of our busiest weekends.

Sarah 03:00

It is.

Annette 03:01

There is a board game. I remember it first started happening, and I’m like– it actually is all week, I feel like. 

Sarah 03:06

It’s in October too.

Annette 03:08

When I say occupancy rates, it is the amount of people that come here to play these board games. We love it because it is a week-long because a lot of times what happens that people come in early, they can get together with their gaming friends. They play games all week. They stay after. It is a great time here in Columbus for hosts and a great way for people to connect but also for us to get bookings. Sarah, this–

Sarah 03:34

My boyfriend’s back. 

Annette 03:36

You are going to get in trouble. This guest, he ain’t playing games. He is not playing games. All right.

Sarah 03:44

I see what you did there. We have Justin Ford, international safety expert specifically for short-term rentals. He works at Breezeway, which you know is one of our favorite pieces of technology for our short-term rental business. And Justin is the most repeat-guest on our podcast because he’s got the most important topic that he shares which is safety. Please do not skip this episode. Please listen to in its entirety. 

Sarah 04:13

Justin drops this one thought change about who we’re actually up against when it comes to the longevity and security of the short-term rental business, and it’s not who you think it is. And so I want you to hear that tip once the episode plays, but of course Justin shares a ton of information about how to make your properties more safe, how to save you from liability or having something on your conscious that you don’t want on your conscious and obviously to protect your short-term rental. Justin, welcome back to the podcast. 

Annette 04:48

We’re supposed to say welcome back, back, back, back, back, back, back to back.

Sarah 04:52

This is episode number 13. You are by far the most repeat guests we have because you have the most important topic to share with everyone. So welcome back. What have you been up to? What’s new in the short-term rental safety world?

Justin 05:12

Yeah. First 13 episodes, I still remember when Annette was driving me crazy when we met like five years ago at a Vrbo conference in Arizona. She’s like, I have a podcast. I’m like, whatever. It’s so awesome. It’s so awesome how far you guys have come you guys are– I’m still playing below fire extinguishers and squirt and water, and you guys are crushing it, killing it. You represent so much of the world. So it’s so awesome how far you’ve come.

Sarah 05:40

Thank you. 

Justin 05:41

Yeah. There’s been a lot going on. Our last episode was almost a year ago in April, and so many crazy things all the time that are happening. I wish I could say things have improved. They’re not. And that’s what kills me. Obviously, one thing that has improved is all of the listeners that listen to this podcast. I’m always so humbled how many of them are like, hey, Justin, we heard you, and we’ve done this. So it’s not your listeners, and we’ll talk about that, but it’s all the other crazy things.

Justin 06:10

I talked about this one at your conference, this past fall, the fire that happened in the Outer Banks that killed those three people. That’s still in the news. It’s still getting talked about. And the fire will come up on the one year anniversary of all the people who died at the Airbnbs in Montreal, and that’s going to be making big news again. And it still is where we’re seeing this pattern of the news media is attracted obviously to when the incident happens, and then a month goes by, and then they focus on the family and the relatives. 

Justin 06:41

A month goes by, then the lawsuits happen, and they just keep pounding the news stories. But even this week, you look, there was some death of somebody in an Airbnb camper. I see a lot of those that was in New Zealand. We’ve just had the first pool drowning death in the US for this year at a vacation rental in Florida which just kills me. Those are so needless. 

Annette 07:03

Can you explain what of a campervan? I’m not familiar with that incident. We haven’t ever really done tiny home or campervan safety. What happened there to share with everyone?

Justin 07:13

Yeah. Those are tough because a lot of those, like the little boats, or the campers, or different things are using a lot of times gas heaters, and they’re complicated. You’ve got the carbon monoxide issue that you’ve got to address. But then anytime we’re in these tiny spaces, especially on a cooler time of the year, you’re dealing with some sort of heater that’s not conventional. It’s not like the thermostat at home. 

Justin 07:40

This one just happened in New Zealand. It was particularly noteworthy that you look in the guestroom reviews on Airbnb, and the last three or four people were like, Thank God, we didn’t have to use the heater. It wasn’t cold enough. The host showed us how to use it. If we’re in a situation where a host has to come over and show someone how to operate the heater, it’s probably too complicated for the guests to use. 

Sarah 08:02

That’s so sad.

Justin 08:04


Sarah 08:05

Justin, is there anything new in the safety world to help us hosts prevent these tragedies? What’s a new product or a new procedure that you’ve seen in your travels? Because you travel everywhere. Listeners I mean–

Annette 08:19

All over the world.

Sarah 08:20

Yeah. Where have you been in the last year? And then, yeah, take us to what new safety products you’re seeing?

Justin 08:27

I’ll echo the same thing. There’s plenty of room in this space anybody else wants to jump in. So far that has happened and, apparently, I’m still the guy. I’m proud to be the guy, but I need to help because, yeah, I’ve been in England. I’ve been in castles inspecting homes. I’ve been in Colorado inspecting the most expensive vacation rental in the world in Beaver Creek. Lots of different places, and I get to see Costa Rica. Really excited for some of the stuff Mexico, Tahiti. Ladies, I wish I could have brought you to Tahiti with me.

Annette 09:01

Yeah, the invitation got lost in the mail. 

Justin 09:04

Yeah, it bounced back.

Annette 09:08

Rewind really quick. Most expensive vacation rental in the world, is that what you said?

Justin 09:14

At the time, that’s what we believe. We couldn’t find anything else–

Annette 09:17

What is the value of the home?

Justin 09:19

It was about $40,000 a night. This property had its own jail, which the eccentric owner of the property before it was a vacation rental thought it was fun to get his buddies drunk and then he put them in the jail cell. So they wake up passed out in the morning. 

Annette 09:34

$40,000, and it’s getting booked. 

Justin 09:37

It was not getting booked. It hasn’t since when they converted it. I know that they’re trying to put the property up. I think the intent was to get corporate and get Taylor Swift to come rent it. That didn’t happen, but that was the intent.

Annette 09:52

All right. And you did a full-on safety inspection there? 

Justin 09:55

Yeah, yeah. 

Annette 09:56

What is something surprising about a house that size and that value?

Justin 10:02

it had an indoor shooting range, so obviously, that wasn’t safe. I made them walk that off. It had an indoor climbing wall. We couldn’t figure out how to make that work from a safety point of view. It had an indoor teppanyaki grill, its own private teppanyaki grill. So we made sure that a caterer was going to be the one flinging the knives around. 

Justin 10:20

But it had two indoor pools, so we were looking closely at that, and had some strange roof access. Had a hot tub that was really high up on a deck that had no stairs leading up to it. And it was very complicated to get up there and undo the cover. So obviously, there was a lot of things that we identified, and adjusted, and blocked off so that it wouldn’t become a problem for guests.

Annette 10:45

And I know you mentioned Mexico. There have been sounding alarms on the news about traveling to Mexico in both resorts and short-term rentals. When you were there, though, what were you feeling from the host and then trying to remedy this? I know that the travel dollars are so important. What were the conversations that you were having and the host trying to figure out how they can make sure that their homes are safe?

Justin 11:16

What was so exciting for me down there was, for me, it was so easy. I walked in, and they’ve never seen this. I showed them news clips from America, Lester Holt’s on the evening news saying Mexico’s dangerous. They didn’t know this. And they didn’t realize that it was so easy to address this problem. The biggest one, obviously, is carbon monoxide, gas explosions. 

Justin 11:38

And when I showed him that Americans are concerned, Canadians are concerned to come vacation down there because of this, and they’re traveling with their own products, first alert, kiddies should have given me big money because I’m just saying you just need these, and they’re all coming up to me, and they’re ordering them on Amazon, and they’re realizing, wow, all we have to do is put these in and promote it. 

Justin 12:00

If you put these in your rental properties and promote and you have them, people from Canada and the US are going to want to come stay in your properties. And we’ve seen several companies down there that took great action. So I’m pretty excited about the results of what we’ve been working on down there. Cancun is now putting safety regulations in place based on my safety inspection criteria. If that’s all I’ve done in my career, I’m pretty excited about that. When you go travel in Cancun, now you can stay in vacation rentals. They are going to be safe just because of some of my checklists.

Annette 12:31

And for everyone listening even in the US, CO detector, let’s talk about the investment, how many you should have. Let’s go back to that. I think that is a message that we can continue to share.

Justin 12:43

Yeah. So you want independent carbon monoxide alarm, CO alarms, ones that are not combo. And I’ve talked about this on every one of the last 12 episodes. I’ve been on with the stuff, buying those combos. Something new I learned that was surprising, I was at the NFPA conference, National Fire Protection Association Conference, and I didn’t realize till I saw a presentation there what a problem that was with the combo units in rental properties because people were going in and hearing the beep and thinking oh, it’s a smoke alarm going off. 

Justin 13:15

So they’re pulling the batteries but not realizing it was a different beep because it was the carbon monoxide that was going off and not the fire. And there’s been several instances of that. So they’re just aren’t the right product for what we do. You want the independent ones that have a digital readout. I’m a huge fan of First Alert. I don’t get anything from them. I need to figure that out. But they haven’t had a recall since 2006. So any of those digital ones that plug into the wall I like. And I like that some of them have the wire so you can secure it. Go to Home Depot or Lowe’s. Get the wire cover, but just get it permanently mounted to the wall.

Sarah 13:49

And is that different from the explosive gas alert?

Justin 13:52

It is. And for a few extra bucks you can do that. If you do have gas in your property, you should have it. I stayed at a vacation rental this past weekend. I was so excited to walk in. There was a gas wood stove in the corner. And right behind it plugged in was a combination, not combination smoke seal, but a combination CO explosive gas alarm. So if there was a leak by that woodstove, that gas wood stove, it would detect that gas leak.

Annette 14:17

There is one thing that I want to bring up because I see it pretty much, I feel like, every single day, whether I’m on some social media platform, whether I’m scrolling through just Airbnb, the platform, it is the amount of beds that I see in rooms, primarily basements and converted either closets or third levels that have no windows. There’s absolutely no egress, or they’re covering the egress up with these beds. 

Annette 14:52

Just what are the action items right now if someone’s thinking, I’ve got this large walk-in closet, I want to convert it. It could be a great other bedroom. I could put two more beds in there. What are the standards when you’re wanting to put multiple beds in rooms? A bed room with someone sleeping, what should it have?

Justin 15:10

Yeah, I’m glad you brought that up. It’s overcrowding. And it’s probably the most focused on regulation right now that local governments, county governments, state governments, and I’m on a, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of them, Fire Code Action Committee, FCAC. Those committees help develop what new codes are going to be. It’s pretty wild. 

Justin 15:33

This committee I’m on, the head of policy for Airbnb is in this [Inaudible]. It’s a really pretty big time having Andrew [Inaudible] in this. And we’re discussing regulations that are going to be codes that will be adopted by cities, states counties around the world. And the big topic in there is certainly overcrowding. Prepare for it. Just accept it’s going to happen. You’ve got to stop sticking eight people in bunk beds, triple-stacked Queen bunk beds, inside the rental properties because they’re not going to be allowed soon. 

Justin 16:06

And it’s creating too much of a challenge for people to get out. We don’t have time to get out of a room anymore. I live in a house built in 1950. If it catches on fire, I’ve probably got eight, nine minutes to get out because it’s an older blooming construction. You can see behind me those are solid oak cabinets. They’re not something from IKEA or Wayfair. The new modern homes we have, it’s not even just so much your time to get out. It’s the type of toxic things that are in the furnishings that we have today that are so inexpensive, and especially everyone’s putting in their properties. So egress is something you need to wrap your head around fast and adjust to.

Sarah 16:48

Here’s what I want to focus on for a few, Justin. You’ve been on 12 other episodes with us, and during that time, I would say it was the “Airbnb gold rush”. It was a very exciting time. People couldn’t go to hotels, or once they could, they were still uncertain about it. They much preferred a vacation rental home or an apartment in an urban area. Now, it’s very different landscape. Occupancies are, and this is backed by data, down. Average daily rates are down from the previous years. 

Sarah 17:22

So I feel like you came on our show, and we were talking about safety that people could only focus on counting the dollar bills in their bank accounts. Now, only the cream of the crop are going to survive, are going to thrive. And I know that that can include sharing with our guests that we are on top of safety, and that in my in our space, you can rest assure that not only do we have hospitality on lockdown, your safety is our top concern. Have that be a point of marketing. We talked about it before. But how do you think that’s changed in today’s marketplace with short-term rentals where we are having to work a lot harder to get a guest to stay with us?

Annette 18:03

How can safety sell?

Justin 18:05

Yeah. And we saw it for the first time last summer after the fire in the Outer Banks. That had heavy news coverage in a big feeder market, which is the Washington DC metro area. And we’ve seen bookings on the decline. The nightly news isn’t Lester Holt telling you about go stay in a vacation. It’s fun. He’s talking about all these different incidents that are happening, and people are seeing that, and that’s wearing it down. 

Justin 18:32

Never has there been an opportunity like there is right now to market with safety. In Mexico, that I just talked about, it’s a great example of that. You can use safety now to get bookings. I never dreamed that was what it was going to be about. I was always just focused on what smoke alarm did. We need a fire extinguisher type. I’ve been so focused on the education side, and this past year, I’ve seen just such a remarkable evolution from a lot of your listeners.

Justin 18:58

I hear from a lot of your listeners who say, hey, Justin, we’ve done your safety checklist. We’ve done this stuff. And we actually were able to increase their price. We got bookings. I love hearing that. Who would have known it’s that easy? What a reward is it that you just do what’s right. You make this safe, but it’s going to help the whole industry when you do that. When you make your property safe, you mark it that it’s safe. Now we’re educating the guests that they want to rent safe properties. And so now they’re working with the people that we care about, not the people who are having these noisy parties with shootings and things like that.

Annette 19:32

But exactly what is the consumer, what is the traveler, what is our guest looking for? What truly is selling? What part of safety is getting that booking?

Justin 19:43

The guests are looking right now for a couple of things. They’re looking for a comfortable relaxing place where they can spend time and not have to worry about, do I have to fix this? Do I have to fix that? They want to see a well-maintained property. So that’s very important to them. And then they’re also thinking about the world. What’s going on in the world? And so there’s lots of studies that show people think when they’re booking travel. 

Justin 20:11

We saw, for example, Alaskan Airlines, this past month. They had an incident where that door blew up. Alaskans bookings dropped. Their prices have dropped. That’s great. I actually booked the flight on Alaska, not shortly after that, because I know incidents don’t repeat themselves. But that’s just that incident that it’s a type of thing where you see people are concerned about safety, and so they want to book and stay in a property that’s safe, maintained. They don’t want to deal with hassles. 

Justin 20:38

Working a Breezeway, we get to see all the maintenance, inspections, the communications, all the different things that come up. And people don’t want to have to deal with problems, and they give really good reviews when they get to go stay in a property and everything was smooth and they felt safe.

Sarah 20:58

In another area of the market change, people are also seeing again, how much work it’s going to take to maintain occupancy and our rates or get it as high as we can, so much so that they might be offloading it, their property, to a co-host. And so we’re seeing a lot of conversations from our community, Justin, because they’re amazing hosts, where their friends or their acquaintances are asking them to co-host for them. 

Sarah 21:26

Now, the word co-host can mean so many things. We’re talking a lot about it a lot on the podcast because it seems to be the year of the co-host. But Justin, what are your thoughts on the co-host’s responsibility when it comes to safety when they don’t own the property?

Justin 21:43

Yeah. They’re on the hook. There’s no doubt. And if there’s one thing that has grown tremendously in the four or five years that I’ve been speaking with you guys, it is the litigious world and the focus that lawyers now have on how attractive the homesharing vacation rental, short-term rental, Airbnb market is. They want it bad because it’s really easy to point out when someone’s being negligent. 

Justin 22:13

And we could say, five years ago, before I started doing podcasts with you, well, how am I supposed to know what to do to make a rental property safe? No, there’s no information out there. Well, that’s gone now. There’s so much information out there on what to do. And so you’re being negligent if you’re not. So if you’re going to get involved in co-hosting, it’s critically important that you’re keeping an eye out and understanding this isn’t a safe situation.

Justin 22:40

I’m walking into a bedroom, and the bed is up against the window. When there’s a fire, and this is a big thing I encourage every co-host to think about, get rid of the word if. If the guests are messy. They’re going to be messy. Someone’s going to be messy. If the guests have a party, at some point in time during the year, some guests can have a party. 

Justin 22:59

And when there is a fire, when the lights go out, and the guests are trying to get from their car to the house, you need to prepare and make sure that each step of the process, you have addressed safety. How are they going to get out? Go through that. Enact that. Those are all responsibilities you now have to take on as a co-host. 

Sarah 23:20

It’s a lot of responsibility. Justin, I want to tell you a story. I don’t know if I share this on the podcast yet. A friend of mine here in our city is a co-host, and you have to get licensed in Columbus to operate a short-term rental. Now, I wish the license process was a little more stringent when it came to safety checks, but you at least have to be licensed and agree that you understand building code and that you’re adhering to it. 

Sarah 23:46

Well, her owner hadn’t renewed their license. It wasn’t a part of her process to make sure the license was on the up and up. And apparently the city was reaching out to the owner about renewing it, about renewing it. The owner never did. The city couldn’t get a hold of the owner, but her picture was up on the Airbnb profile as a co-host, and so they held her responsible. She was doing 16 hours of community service. 

Sarah 24:13

I’m talking picking up garbage on the highway because she was a part of a property that was not actively licensed by the city. And then she told me this to share with everyone because she’s like, I had no idea that I would be held to the same standards that the owner would be held to. I was just helping with the messaging. You know what I mean? I’m just over here trying to help him while he’s at work or what have you, but these municipalities are treating co-hosts with the same amount of responsibility as if they are the homeowners.

Justin 24:46

Imagine if there’d been a fire at that property. That same co-host would have probably minimal and have paid $100,000 to get their name removed from the lawsuit and prove she had nothing to do with it, at a minimum. I’d like to take you all to this level where we’re at the cliff, but before we jump off the cliff, I just want to remind you, if you’re not a mechanic, you got to check the lug nuts. If you’re a chef, you got to check the food temperature. 

Justin 25:12

And if you’re loading baggage on an airplane, you got to make sure the guy comes up and double checks. We take on risks in everything we do. If you approach this as the risk, you have to take, then it’s understandable, and you can manage that risk.

Annette 25:29

If you can speak to this a little bit about insurance and having a litigation. What do you recommend, though, Justin, when you see an incident happen? It is a safe property. Maybe the guest brought candles. They did something with the grill. What are next steps? What have you seen? How with host successfully defended themselves when they did have a safe property? Let’s dive into what can we do to prepare, if that were to happen to have a best case scenario for the hosts?

Justin 26:05

Yeah, I love this. And actually, I want to answer this with two different answers. One is a leader, and this goes back to your first question you asked earlier, what’s a hot topic that’s been going on lately, one has been hot tubs. If you have a hot tub at your rental property, you need to change the water every four to six weeks. You don’t get to just leave it like the one at your house that you do once or twice a year. These are people using it. 

Justin 26:29

And you need to know how to manage the chemicals in it. And I’ve seen all these hosts lately. They’re like, oh, I just had the cleaner dump in. I even just saw one where it’s like they told the guests, when you leave, take a half a cup of chlorine and pour it in. Oh my God. Do you know the risk you’re taking on? To get certified to manage water for a hot tub takes about 700-dollar online course? 

Justin 26:52

If you have a hot tub at your property and you’re not having a professional certified manage the water, you need to do that. But where that leads into answering your question is I had a host that said, well, I’ve never heard any of this. My cleaner does it. I said perfect. Well, call your insurance company right now and tell them that your cleaner is the one who is dumping chemicals in before each guests arrive, that she has no certification, and ask your insurance agent if your guests are burned, chemical burns– that just happened two weeks ago in Florida at an Airbnb where the guests, because someone put too much chlorine in, turns out the last guest had their kids in there and they thought they were “peeing in the hot tub”. 

Justin 27:32

So they put extra chlorine because they didn’t want to get busted in their reviews. So now the next guests show up, no one checked, and they got burned. So ask your insurance agent, what are you going to do? I’m calling right now with this claim. How does this get covered? And this host found out that, oh, wow. Well, you didn’t know that. So yeah, we’re not covered. 

Justin 27:53

To answer the second part of your question is document, document, document. It’s so easy now. Take your cell phone and document it. Geo tag. You’ve got the date time stamp. Just take pictures, and obviously I’ll plug Breezeway because Breezeway lets you do that, and you should be using on Breezeway to do that. We’ve seen now court cases where, Your Honor, I did an inspection report, or my cleaner did a walkthrough, documented it in Breezeway afterwards, and we have this report, and the judge says, why are we here in court? 

Justin 28:27

This is an open shut. It’s the lighter. You’re good. And so when you can go to the insurance company and go, well, the guests got injured, but I have a picture here. The light worked on Tuesday. It’s okay. Easy out the door. Document, document, document. 

Annette 28:42

That is the hot tip. Obviously, we’re huge supporters of Breezeway. But again, you can do this, like you said. Your phone is going to geotag date and timestamp. That could be part– if you don’t have any tech at all and your turnover team at least has a phone. Yeah, we locked the hot tub up. We did this. And even just having pictures for every turnover, that way, if there’s any negligence brought up, you can be like, look, we are doing the same checklist every single time. 

Annette 29:15

So they see oh my gosh, yeah. Here’s the checklist. Here are the photos. They are doing this after each and every turn. So that responsibility factor is compounded if you can show proof that you have SOPs for every turn over there. The checklist is something that helped. 

Justin 29:30


Annette 29:31

Have you seen something in particular, with insurance or counsel? Is there something that you’ve seen a trend where hosts have best defended themselves with a certain insurance policy or a certain way to approach the cases, something you’ve seen over and over again, besides documenting and having proof that they’re not negligent?

Justin 29:50

Yeah. There’s a story that’s out right now. There was a woman in Florida who her Airbnb burned down here in February. She didn’t want to pay for more expensive policy. And now she’s in a position where the insurance that she has isn’t covering fire damage that happened on her Airbnb. She’s going to lose four times the amount of rental income this next month than what it would have been had she paid for a proper insurance policy that would have covered for all these different things. 

Justin 30:27

And so a lot of insurance companies now are getting out of this. I often tell people, the biggest threat to our industry is insurance. And at some point in time, and you guys want to go in on this, we’ll get some of your listeners, we’re going to have to create our own fund to insure the vacation rentals because– there’s Proper, there’s Foremost, there’s a few other companies. But when I got started in this in 1997, anybody walked into it, and you said, I want to insure a vacation rental. They went, okay. Sure, yeah, not a problem.

Justin 30:54

Those guys are gone. Vermont, Life, Holyoake, they don’t want to insure vacation rentals anymore because they’re so dangerous. And so you’ve got to be working with an insurance company now that knows how to protect you, understands everything. And you’ve got to have intimate knowledge on it. The same way a doctor needs to know what tools he uses to check a patient, you need to know every tool that’s there with the insurance companies and what they can do to help you.

Sarah 31:24

It just happened to me. I have a new client, and I’m trying to get her with getting coverage. And we reached out to two of her brokers. She has two different brokers, and they both, without even knowing any other information other than we wanted to operate the short-term rental said no. It was actually shocking to me. I was like, really? Even like 2024, you don’t have a product that you– and listeners, if you feel like, well, I didn’t have that issue, I just want to make sure that you were clear to your broker that you’re operating it. It’s not regular landlord coverage. It is you’re operating on short-term rentals because it’s different.

Justin 32:01

Yeah. We could probably make a list if people wanted to see it. But there’s certain questions you want to ask the insurance company. What happens if a guest comes in, I give them a bottle of wine? Which by the way, I know this is controversial, but stop giving your guests alcohol. I have yet someone call me and send me an email, show me where you lost a booking because you didn’t give them a bottle of wine when they showed up or they didn’t come back again. 

Justin 32:22

But ask them what happens if a guest leaves the property drunk driving? It’s called off premise liability. Ask them what happens if guests are intoxicated at your property and something happens. And I know you guys have been talking about pets a lot lately. Ask them what happens if someone brings a dog to your property and it goes over next door and bites the neighbor and what type of coverage is there. 

Justin 32:44

Ask them what happens when your house burns down and catches on fire because it guests did something. Ask them what kind of income you’re still going to get because you got a mortgage to pay. And how’s that mortgage going to be covered if there’s a fire at their property? So all these things you’ve got to ask. You don’t just go and go, hey, I need insurance. Thanks. Someone covered me. I’m out of here. 

Justin 33:09

You have really clear questions about all the scenarios and all you have to do is go on my Facebook page, where I keep track of all the incidents. What happens when there’s a drowning? What happens when the pool has too much chlorine in it? What happens when– all these different things. 

Annette 33:26

Let’s spin it around. What are the top three things that someone could go do today that they’ll at least feel like, I made my property safer today? What do they do?

Justin 33:39

Yeah, I’ve been really excited lately talking about carpets and trip hazards. That’s the biggest one. We’ve just talked about some really bad stuff. Five people might have a hot tub burn from chlorine this year, and we’re going to have 50 fires, but the reality is we’re going to have 70,000 people or more trip, slip, or fall on a vacation in only US this year. And that comes from numbers Airbnb shared. 

Justin 34:02

So we know that there’s a lot of slips, trips, and falls. I was just at a rental property, as I said, this past weekend with an explosive gas detector. The thing that I loved when I walked in is it had this been Waterhog mat. I think there’s miss from L.L.Bean, but they make them all over. They’re flat, and they’re big. And so stop using those little teeny mats. When you step in, you barely have three– you can fit maybe two people on it, maybe. But if you’ve got luggage, not many.

Justin 34:30

Number one, they’re so small that they wiggle, move around, and they become a trip hazard. Number two is they don’t really serve any purpose because there’s not enough room to wipe your feet off anyway, so I say go big. Get a big mat that everybody who’s showing up at your property can all stand on together. Fill that entryway with this nice big mat. Like I said, Waterhog is a good mat to go with. 

Justin 34:53

And then also walk through your property and look at your pathways. I was just in a rental property down in Virginia, where when you walked in, to go to the kitchen, you had to cross through the living room, but they have stuck the carpet out into what is that path. The path from the main entry to the kitchen has a corner of a living room rug sticking out.

Justin 35:16

Well, your focus is going to be on the kitchen, not the living room, and I can look at this corner of the carpet. It was talking to me. It was lifted up, and you know people are tripping on it. Move that carpet out of the passageway. Get it back in the living room. Get a smaller one. Slide it over. So easy, hardly will cost you any money unless you actually have to buy a new carpet, but pick a focus on your trip hazards because that’s what’s going to get you the biggest.

Sarah 35:40

I want to ask you about something that I think hosts could do today. I want to improve this in our rentals, or at least revisit them and make sure that they’re in good shape and the language still make sense. But let’s talk about, okay, you have a ladder to escape out of a window that is proper egress size. But how do we tell the guests, hey, this is the best course of action when there is an emergency? Here is the ladder. Or if you’re maybe managing an apartment building, when you leave, take a left and a right. That’s the best exit. How are you seeing hosts successfully communicate safety in their rentals?

Justin 36:17

With the right signage. We need to do a better job in this industry of using the correct signs to alert people of things. Having a sign that says park here, that might be important, and you have to do it. But having a sign that says no noise after 10 o’clock at night, that’s dangerous because people aren’t going to pay attention to that anyway. That’s something you communicate in an email or somewhere else because what that sign should be should be, like you said, egress, or this is dangerous. 

Justin 36:48

We need to focus on making sure that we’re only using signage for the most critically important things. There was a court case I saw recently where that’s exactly what the lawyer said in court. He said, excuse me, you guys had a sign telling people to take off your shoes. You had a sign saying park here, and you had a sign saying, don’t make noise and after 10 o’clock, but you didn’t have a sign telling people that they couldn’t be in the hot tub longer than 15 minutes, and that they should consult their doctor. 

Justin 37:15

And it was a fatality of a guest and a hot tub. And that’s what the lawsuit was based on, is they didn’t know that they’re supposed to do that. You know that. I know that, but that’s how they won on that technicality. So do it nicely. You don’t have to have these big ugly red signs on Amazon that say fire extinguisher. There is no code that says it has to be big, ugly, bright letters. You can use the font, as long as it’s clear. And you can do black and white.

Justin 37:40

I was just in a property where when the owner of the property is there, they don’t want to see signage. And so they have this nice picture frame on the wall that has a picture of their kids. When the guests are in residence, they pull that picture out and drop and right behind it is the important safety stuff that’s there, and it’s clear, it’s nice, and it’s presented in a good way. So that’s where you really need to start, is making sure you’ve got good signage.

Annette 38:06

Is that in every room, though? Let’s say they’re–

Justin 38:10

Not necessarily. If you’ve got a three-bedroom house, you can get away with having the address and emergency card on the refrigerator. Again, I’m not talking trashy hours and deliveries and where to get pizza. Make it nice and clean, crisp and clear that’s focused just on that important information. And then if you’re getting into four or five bedrooms, you might also put that beside each bed, again, in a nice little frame beside the bed. 

Justin 38:34

You’re going to have a frame over the fireplace if they use it with the instructions or beside it that’s nice clearly print, a sign at the hot tub, a sign at the pool. If there’s some other type of crazy thing in the property that it’s complicated or potentially can lead to an issue. The grill. Don’t move the grill from here. This is how it operates. QR codes are great too.

Annette 38:58

Another thing I see scrolling through social media and listings, I feel like so many slides, whether it’s from the inside to the outside or they put them on bunk beds so the kids can go from the top to the bottom, they just scream danger to me. Is there any rules and regulations around indoor slides or slides from the inside to the outside? 

Justin 39:24

We’ve seen a couple that are okay. Actually, I was at a house with you guys in Columbus that had an indoor slide. I was okay with it. I honestly don’t know that it gets more bookings. Someone showed me that. Thank God we installed that slide because until we did, we weren’t getting many bookings, and now it’s through the roof. Sure, it’s cool, but to your point, there’s a lot of get rich people seeing them. 

Justin 39:47

If you guys want to help me, let’s troll those guys because they’re bothering the heck out of me. I just saw somebody in Florida. They put in gyms, and houses, and trolley lines, and slides, and then you go in they’ve converted the garage of a house that was never intended to have it as a sleeping area. They’ve converted the garage into eight bunk beds. There’s no smoke alarm. They bolted the garage doors down. There’s no egress. 

Justin 40:13

And they’re out, I just made a million dollars in the first year on bookings. Those people are hurting us. They’re hurting all of us that care and are doing the right thing in the industry. Putting the slides in, the slide into the lake. I saw one, I think it’s on Lake Learn in North Carolina. It had 2 million downloads on Instagram. The person’s going down the slide, and you can actually see in the back of the picture a boat’s weight going by. It’s like, how long before someone’s going to slide right into the boat?

Annette 40:40

You’re hitting the nail on the head with a few things that we’re seeing a lot of these photos online of just convert your garage, convert your basement, game rooms, extra bedrooms. And we have knowledge of hosts that have taken those recommendations, let’s say their garage, they converted it into a game room, and then when they– this was a city where they didn’t need to be inspected. The inspector came out, was like, this is a garage. This is not any sort of living space. 

Annette 41:06

They spent all this money to convert it, the pool table, the design, and they’re like, no, this is not permitted. This is not permissible here. So if you’re going to do one of these, Airbnb doesn’t need a garage, Airbnb doesn’t even– you need to make sure though, whatever your inspection is and what your code is, that before you make that investment and pivoting that room, that you’re actually going to be able to host guests with that like that. So I’ve heard stories on the flip side. They’ve seen this. They’re like, that’s a great idea. That’s an amenity that people are going to want. I’m am going to get bookings from it. And then they weren’t able to open because they had converted it. 

Justin 41:41

I’m all right with some. You see these theme things, the Taylor Swift. If it’s theme, you got her records on the wall. That’s cool. Or Barbie’s house. Barbie’s Dream house was a couple of things. But this whole turned the Airbnb into a jungle gym play thing, like you said. I was at one in Orlando. I think it was supposed to be an Elsa and Anna from Frozen’s room. And they’ve built the castle, and they’re actually covering the sprinkler heads. 

Justin 42:08

I’m like, you guys covered up the sprinkler heads. If there’s a fire, it can’t get down here. And they’re like, yeah, I didn’t know that. We didn’t know. Nobody did. What are you doing? So yeah, that stuff is taking it too far, and that’s hurting all of us. It’s hurting the ones that are playing by the rules and going, all right. I’m going to make my log cabin feel like the log cabin, but I’m not making it so Daniel Boone is shooting hunting through the living room. We’re going too far guys sometimes, folks.

Sarah 42:37

I think you hit the nail on the head with our biggest concern should be the insurance companies, and that is a direct result of bad operators or really great hosts who just aren’t asking questions. They’ll do anything to make their rental successful. So they’ll do those things that aren’t safe. Things happen. News happens. Insurance companies drop out, and all of a sudden, because we have no coverage, and so therefore we can’t safely operate. 

Sarah 43:06

So that hit home for me. Annette and I have a lot more work to do in terms of getting to as many hosts as possible and supporting you Justin in those efforts. Before we conclude this episode, which we’ve already talked about you coming back, I have a very specific topic I want you to come and speak on the podcast, so you’ll be back, but right now, is there anything else you want to share with our listeners about safety in 2024? 

Justin 43:33

Yeah, I touched on it briefly, but I really want to hit this one home. Start educating your guests. There’s so many things you can do to get them to come back and stay with you again, but when you educate them, if you’ve got followers, if there are people who are paying close attention to you, you’ve got an Instagram channel you’re talking about how great your property is, talk to them about the safety in your property because then they’re going to start looking for it.

Justin 43:58

If they go elsewhere and they’re like, wait a minute, the host I always stay with, they’ve got a fire extinguisher mounted, and they’ve talked about it, and they show me how the windows open, and you’re not showing me this? That education is going to help make our industry better, but it’s also going to help get them so that, again, they want to come back and stay with you because they haven’t found anybody else who cared about them as much as you. 

Justin 44:21

So start doing that on social media. I’m doing that now too. I’m starting to do stuff. I was just in Sint Maarten with my wife, the video that I shot there was what I do when I go stay in a rental and I showcase what’s important to me about my stay and the few things that I’m going to do when I check in. So I can’t encourage people enough. We need to educate the guests that we want to come stay with us that what we’re doing is important so that they recognize that.

Annette 44:48

Where can our listeners find more of you Justin Ford? 

Justin 44:53

There’s a lot coming up. I’m pretty much on the road the entire month of April. We got the VRMA conference. Canada’s having its very first conference CanStays. There’s a vacation rental design summit in High Point, North Carolina. I’m really excited about that. I’ll be the keynote at that one. Michigan’s doing a short-term conference. So if you get online, you can see I’m doing a lot of travel to a lot of different conferences and presentations. So that’s exciting. 

Justin 45:21

You can find me on Instagram, @shorttermrentalsafety, on Facebook. So Facebook’s where I share all the grim, terrible things happening. And then LinkedIn, Short-Term Rental Safety, Justin Ford. I like to share a lot of different thoughts on policies and different things going on. And I can’t keep up with you guys on Instagram. I tried. You guys crushed it over there. But I did try, me and my little 1,500 followers. 

Annette 45:47

They all matter.

Annette 45:48

You have to follow just on LinkedIn or don’t because if you post something that’s not safe, or you say something that’s not safe, he will come after you, and it’s really fun to watch.

Sarah 45:58

And, hey, listen, we have also been reprimanded by Mr. Ford, and we’ll let you know. We’ve been reprimanded on some of our STR shares because there have been photos that we’ve shared and he’s had to let us know like, hey, that cool photo of that girl drinking her coffee on the deck is pretty terrible. We’re like, oh, my gosh, you’re right. Look at that staircase, not safe. So we just want to let you know that Justin is also making us aware. Yeah. But again, it’s all in the name of safety, saving lives. Justin, we cannot thank you enough for being on the show again. And we’ll have you back again.

Justin 46:40

[Inaudible] right before we leave.

Justin 46:41

Last year, 22 lives directly that we know that were saved because they listened and did something. I’ll be honest with you, that’s what drives me. My wife’s like, it’s eight o’clock. You got to come to bed. Come in, have dinner. You’ve been working all day. The number one thing that drives me now is how many people are reaching out to me and going, hey, Justin, we didn’t have smoke alarms in the room. We heard you on a podcast. We installed them, and we had a fire two weeks later, and, oh my god, we couldn’t imagine what would have happened. So that’s the thing that’s driving me right now and to know and actually hear people’s lives being saved, some of your listeners, and injuries that have been prevented. So take action.

Annette 46:41


Annette 47:20

Yeah, take action. And also Justin is on all those social channels. Let him know if you’ve made that change. If you’ve installed the fire extinguisher, if you change out your smoke alarms, do that. And what Justin does, too, I love, listen to everything that he says because there are so many things I’ve personally taken. I redid all my parents’ smoke alarms, and like, that is not as white as it supposed to be. How long has that been in that random area? What I love about what you teach is people can use this knowledge in every property that they ever reside in their whole entire lives. So you are doing really important work, Justin.

Justin 47:58

Thanks. Thank you for helping me amplify it.

Annette 48:00


Sarah 48:01

All right. With that I am Sarah Karakaian.

Annette 48:03

I’m Annette Grant. And together we are–

Both Annette & Sarah 48:05

Thanks for Visiting. 

Sarah 48:06

Talk to you next time.