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Renting a vacation home?

We’ve got safety tips

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Photos: SolStock/iStockphoto

Whether you’re planning a large family gathering, a girlfriends’ getaway or a cozy couple’s retreat, rental homes have become a popular option.

Keep in mind, though, that many short-term rental properties are private residences. That means they’re not held to the same fire prevention and security standards that hotels are. But by asking the right questions before booking and taking some simple steps after arriving, you can help make your next stay a safe one.

Let’s get started!

Before you book

Ask about safety: Before you sign a rental agreement, the Consumer Product Safety Commission says you should verify with the owner that the property has working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and at least one fire extinguisher.
Let there be light: Will you be arriving at your destination after dark? “Ask the host, ask the manager: ‘Could you turn the lights on for us?’” said Justin Ford, director of safety at Breezeway, a property operations and services platform for short-term rentals. This can shed literal light on uneven pavement or other unexpected trip hazards, which, Ford points out, are a common cause of rental property-related injuries.

When you get there

Conduct a “safety sweep”: Vacation rental company Airbnb recommends you walk around the property shortly after arriving to locate items such as alarms, fire extinguishers and first aid kits. “If you’re not sure where something is, don’t hesitate to ask your host,” Airbnb says. “It’s always better to be prepared.”
Look at emergency plans: Part of that safety sweep should include reviewing emergency and fire escape plans, making sure that each room offers at least two ways out. “You’ve got to get familiar with the property and go over those worst-case scenarios before you get comfortable and start your vacation,” Ford said.
Stay secure: Learn how the doors and windows lock and unlock, Ford said, and be aware of any home security systems or cameras.
Think about the kids: Traveling with young kids? Ford recommends you bring your own electrical outlet plug covers.

While you’re having fun

Check the deck: Wood decks face frequent exposure to the elements and have a lifespan of 10-15 years, the North American Deck and Railing Association says. If taking a group photo on an outdoor deck or stairs is part of your plans, Ford recommends you give some thought to whether those structures “are strong enough to hold everybody.”
Be “water smart”: Does your rental property have a hot tub or pool? Ask the property owner/manager about gates, covers and alarms around the pool or spa, and use them consistently. The CPSC has more advice:

  • Never leave kids unattended in or near water.
  • Make sure they stay away from pool drains, pipes and other openings to avoid entrapment.
  • Know how to perform CPR.

As you head to bed

Bunk down carefully: Bunk beds are “a big highlight for a lot of short-term rentals,” Ford says. They also can be a haven for hazards if not handled properly. Nationwide Children’s Hospital has tips:

  • Check for guardrails on both sides of the top bunk. Guardrails must extend at least 5 inches above the mattress top, while the gaps should be no greater than 3½ inches.
  • Make sure the top bunk is clear of ceiling fans.
  • Don’t let kids younger than 6 sleep in the top bunk.
  • Teach older children how to safely climb the ladder.

Create a safe sleep environment: Will your young child need a crib during your stay? If the property owner provides one, find out the make and model. You can’t be sure whether supplied equipment is fully functional or has been recalled, Ford says. So, search for the crib at SaferProducts.gov before you arrive. Or, bring your own so you know your baby is safe.

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