An app lets homeowners profit off their pools, but raises questions

The website Swimply, called ‘AirBnB for pools,’ has prompted concerns about safety and local regulations.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Andrea Parker rents her Bountiful swimming pool, pictured here on Sept. 6 2023, on Swimply in the summers.

Andrea Parker’s backyard pool is nothing fancy. It’s not heated, she said, and she guesses it was added to the house in the ‘70s. Parker calls it the “cement pond.”

Still, it’s a welcome reprieve from the summer heat — not for her or her family, but for the many strangers who rent it by the hour.

Parker lists her pool on Swimply, a website known by some as the “AirBnB for pools.”

The site and its accompanying app lets users rent private pools and hot tubs directly from the property owner. There are close to 100 pools available to rent in the Salt Lake area, according to a Swimply spokesperson, going for between $20 and 100 an hour.

The site lists pools along the Wasatch Front from Ogden to Spanish Fork, plus more than a dozen in the St. George area, and one each in Stansbury Park, Moab and Fillmore.

Swimply takes a 15-30% cut, according to its website, while the owner keeps the rest.

Parker’s, listed at $25 an hour, offers a diving board, two gazebos, lounge chairs, and seating for “30+ people.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Andrea Parker says guests at her swimming pool have been respectful of her rules. In addition to the pool, guests have access to a grill, gazebo and lounge chairs.

Regulations and safety protocol, however, have not always kept up with the site’s growing popularity. Allowing strangers into your home comes with inherent risks, as does swimming in a stranger’s pool.

A 7-year-old girl drowned in a rented Swimply pool in New Jersey in June 2022. Some personal injury law firms have devoted entire pages on their websites to Swimply claims.

Utah’s pool laws only apply to public pools, not residential ones. But officials say pool owners would still have to comply with building codes and noise ordinances.

Safety has not yet been an issue in the Salt Lake area, according to the Unified Police Department of Greater Salt Lake. But noise has, and officials in some Salt Lake County cities don’t yet know how to classify private pools rented for profit.

According to a Unified Police spokesperson, the department’s database includes two Swimply-related calls, both in Riverton in 2021. The calls were related to business licensing. Unified Police did not provide any further information about the calls.

Whether Swimply pool owners are running a “business” depends on the city and its rules.

Riverton city code does require a business license to rent a pool on Swimply, or to rent a home on AirBnb, according to Josh Lee, the city’s communications director. The city also requires conditional-use permits for bigger parties, which might include big group bookings on Swimply.

“I don’t think a lot of people know,” Lee said.

Bountiful, where Parker’s pool is listed, did not respond to questions about licensing requirements. Its city code defines a business as any activity “engaged in within the corporate limits of Bountiful carried on for the business of gain or economic profit,” except employees working for their employers.

Parker does not have a business license, and said she does not think she needs one. Her yard can accommodate up to 30 people, according to the listing, but the groups to which she rents are generally small.

Neighbors of local Swimply pool owners have complained on social media about noise from pool renters and parties late into the night. One Reddit user called living next to a Swimply pool a “living nightmare.”

Swimply’s community guidelines explicitly disallow sex or sexual activity or intimidating, threatening behavior, and “strongly discourage” such disruptive behavior as smoking, littering and “excessive noise.” The platform also provides up to $2 million in liability protection and up to $10,000 in property damage protection.

Parker said she has never had a problem with renters. At first, she was worried, as a single mom, about letting strangers into her home, she said, but found comfort in the fact that Swimply runs background checks on all its users. She rents on weekends, while she or someone in her household is home.

“You can report people and can report for any damages, and they’ll reimburse you,” she said. “I feel pretty safe that everyone’s going to be nice. So far, it’s been great.”

Parker is assured by Swimply’s protection, but said she also makes guests sign a separate waiver as “a little added protection.”

Still, she said she wouldn’t rent her pool if she didn’t need the extra income. She joined Swimply in the summer of 2020, when money was tight, people were desperate to get outside and public pools were closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

She listed her “cement pond” for $15 an hour. By the end of the summer, she had made around $7,000.

“That was really helpful for me,” she said. “I was really struggling financially at the time.”

Parker has raised her rates in the last three years, but her Swimply earnings have remained relatively stagnant. She put some of her own money into new patio furniture and pool maintenance.

Overall, she said, she feels good about the experience. No one seems to mind that her pool isn’t heated, she said.

Of course, it would be nice to use the pool herself and not have to rent it, she said.

“But on the other hand, I really, really enjoy the fact that people get to enjoy my pool when I can’t.”

Shannon Sollitt is a Report for America corps member, covering business accountability and sustainability for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.