Contemplating Airbnb? Is your property safe enough for guests?

Gregg Masters, Head of Client Services at 4site Consulting advises.

With spring firmly in the air and summer just a brief turn around the corner, most of those who can, will soon begin contemplating their annual escape from their ordinary lives. Thanks to the rising cost of travel, holidaying in the U.K. Is firmly on the rise and this is a profitable situation for the coastal-based leaseholder with a spare bedroom or two!

The rise of travel websites that allow you to easily list your own house, flat or room as a short term holidaying location has led to many such lessees cashing in on their extra space. An excellent idea that seems to benefit all parties involved.

Alas, every silver lining has its cloud and, as a leasehold flat owner, it's likely that your new venture will be creating risk to your unwitting guests. Websites, such as Airbnb are forever improving the advice they issue to their users but seem to leave it to the individual to interpret this advice into action points leaving the important actions disregarded out of confusion.

Reading this, it may seem that the unforgiving vice of Health & Safety has begun uncontrollably weaving its red tape around our personal travel habits; although, in truth, the risk to you and your potential guests is very real and managing that risk requires little more than the application of common sense thrown in with some simple record keeping.

Here’s a brief rundown of tips for safety management at holiday lets;

Are you staying at the property with your guests?

Many of these websites offer the property owner the opportunity to Host (or stay in) their property while their guests are in situ – in fact, with one of the largest websites (Airbnb), Hosting is one of the more popular options for owners.

If you are staying with the guests then you have effectively created a sublet House of Multiple Occupancy (or HMO). These are defined as being properties that house more than three individuals of which form more than one household. ‘Households’ come with their own definitions which, in short, mean individuals such as a close relation or partner.

HMO’s come with their own rules surrounding Fire Risk Management and most Local Authorities have a strict licensing system. Therefore, you will need to complete a Risk Assessment of the property as an HMO and carefully investigate any other requirements set out by your Local Authority as these will differ from region to region.

Does your lease allow this kind of short-term holiday letting?

For the reasons above, it’s likely that it doesn’t. A licensed HMO that is situated within a block of flats heavily effects the safety management of the common parts: check with your lease or management company if applicable.

Is it a safe environment for your guests?

As the Duty Holder for your leasehold property, you are legally defined as the ‘responsible person’ for ensuring the environment is suitable for your paying guests; in an ordinary domestic setting, such responsibilities are not underlined as the regulations only cover non-domestic circumstances or sublet short-hold tenancy situations.

If you chose to let your property out, for however short a time and to whatever agreed rate, you become responsible for the Health Safety & Welfare provisions at the property for that paying guest. In short, you need to:

  • Ensure that the Guest can walk around their designated areas free from obstructions or hazards
  • Routinely visually check any electrical equipment provided to ensure it is safe to use (Television’s, hairdryer, lamps etc.)
  • Inform the guest of the Fire Plan for the building (not to use lifts, which exit to take, if the building has a stay put policy etc.)
  • Regularly test the smoke or heat detectors
  • Inform neighbours that there may be others staying regularly: in the event of a Fire, they may have the opportunity to inform the fire brigade that there are likely to be others trapped in the building.
  • Commission an independent risk assessment; as the duty holder and responsible person, it is best practice to have someone independently review your property to pick up on potential issues that could pose a risk to your guests.

The above list may seem over the top, especially when there is limited case law right now. With that said, it is often the first exemplary case that sets the precedent for everyone else and given the sheer number of people subscribing to these types of service I regret to suspect that it won’t be long before we see such a case in the media.

The message here is to start now, keep records and, most importantly, ensure the safety of those who are within your responsibility, albeit temporarily.

Gregg Masters is Head of Client Services at 4site Consulting a specialist Health & Safety Consultancy serving both the Commercial and Residential Property Management Industry.  

Contact Gregg on 01376 572 936 or visit the 4site Consulting website.