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Fire and life safety concerns in peer-to-peer lodging

Posted: Sept. 20, 2018

Fire departments and communities around the U.S. are starting to recognize and address the unique fire safety concerns that peer-to-peer (P2P) lodgings, like Airbnb, present.

P2P lodgings — privately owned, short-term rental properties — represent a fast-growing alternative to hotels and motels.

But do P2P properties offer the same level of fire safety that hotels and motels do? A team of researchers1 recently looked at Airbnb properties in 16 U.S. cities to see if fire safety devices were present.

The decline of fires in U.S. hotels and motels

During the 20th century, the U.S. lodging industry experienced a large number of catastrophic fires. In 1980, there were over 12,000 hotel and motel fires. Between 1980 and 1986, several major hotel fires resulted in 190 deaths and over 1,000 injuries.

Code changes following these fires required smoke alarms, posted fire escape routes, fire doors, and automated extinguishing systems. These changes helped to bring about a steady reduction in hotel and motel fires and fire losses. The U.S. Fire Administration estimates that from 2014-2016 there was an annual average of 3,900 hotel and motel fires and 15 deaths from these fires PDF 596 KB.

P2P lodging is largely unregulated

Code changes that brought about safer hotels and motels have, for the most part, not found their way into the U.S. P2P hospitality sector. P2P lodging is not as uniformly regulated as hotels and motels. Most P2P properties are private homes, so they may fall under local requirements for residential structures.

There are some local governments that do regulate P2P lodging by:

  • Requiring owners to obtain business licenses or permits.
  • Adjusting building and housing standards to include P2P rental properties.
  • Creating zoning rules for P2P rental locations.

Communities that regulate P2P lodging, however, are still an exception.

Airbnb is the largest P2P exchange service for short-term lodging in the world.

An estimated 43 million people will stay in U.S. Airbnb lodging this year.

Recommended reading

Consumer Reports: 5 Home Safety Questions to Ask Your Airbnb Host Before You Book

We must alert individuals and families interested in renting peer-to-peer accommodations to check the listings for safety amenities and not assume that the safety amenities are regulated like those in the hotel industry.

Dr. Vanya C. Jones, Department of Health, Behavior and Society, Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy

The Airbnb research study

Researchers measured the prevalence of safety devices reported as amenities in Airbnb lodgings across 16 cities in the United States. The researchers used data made available by an independent website that compiles Airbnb listing information posted by hosts. For each property, the researchers noted the reported presence of:

  • Smoke alarms.
  • Carbon monoxide (CO) alarms.
  • Fire extinguishers.
  • First aid kits.

Study findings

  • One in five Airbnb properties do not report having a smoke alarm and about one half do not list a CO alarm. By contrast, all hotels are required to have smoke alarms.
  • Nashville and Portland had a much higher percentage of reported smoke alarms (about 90%) than the other cities in the study. The researchers pointed out that both cities have a permit process for registering Airbnb properties, which may account for this.
  • Portland’s ordinance also specifies the installation and placement of CO alarms. Their reported rate was about 10 points higher than the 16-city average.
The bottom line: Local jurisdictions should consider ways to require installation of fire and life safety amenities like smoke and CO alarms in the P2P hospitality sector.

Learn more about this research

This research article is available through our library by contacting FEMA-NETCLibrary@fema.dhs.gov.

1Kennedy, H.; Jones, V., Gielen, A. (2018). Reported fire safety and first-aid amenities in Airbnb venues in 16 American cities. Injury Prevention: May 7, 2018.

This summary is for informational purposes only. As such, the content does not reflect any official positions, policies or guidelines on behalf of the sender, the U.S. Fire Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, nor any other federal agencies, departments or contracting entities. Similarly, this summary does not represent in any manner an official endorsement or relationship to any private or public companies, organizations/associations, or any authors or individuals cited or websites associated within the article.

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