You have a responsibility as a vacation rental owner to ensure the safety of your guests to the degree that you use your knowledge of the possible risks to create a safe and secure environment for them.
Many travellers have never experienced this type of vacation before so will also need some guidance on how to manage potential hazards they may not have encountered before.
It may seem as though this is going too far along the ‘extra mile’ and we can’t possibly protect them from everything that might occur but in a liability claim situation your proof that you were not negligent can go a long way.
Let’s start with what you need to have as the minimum in safety equipment:
Install a smoke detector in a hallway outside of every sleeping area as well as in, or near the kitchen. The problem with kitchen installations is that they often create ‘nuisance alarms’ when the toast is a little overdone or a stir-fry is cooking. Guests are likely to remove the battery to cut out the nuisance, then forget to put it back. Locate it in a position where this is less likely to occur, but will still be effective in a real fire situation.
Make sure the alarms are checked on every changeover
Carbon Monoxide detectors are now mandatory in residential dwellings in some provinces (here is a list of the 2014 legislation across all provinces), but regardless of your provincial or state legislation, you should install a CO monitor adjacent to every sleeping area. Some smoke detectors now incorporate CO alarms so a dual-purpose unit is acceptable.
There should be at least one fire extinguisher in the property. Call your local fire department and ask which type is best to use and the best location for it, or pick up one of their leaflets on home safety.
Boating safety kits
If you provide a boat with your rental, you must also supply the appropriate safety kit. These include a bailer, whistle, throwing rope and a flashlight and can be bought anywhere that sells watercraft. Even if all you have is a pedalboat, your guests will need to show they have a safety kit (and life jackets) on board if they are stopped by marine police.
Check this on changeovers – children often play with the kits and elements of it will go missing so have a supply of spares handy.
Child-safety risk assessment
You may be asked if your property is ‘child-friendly’. This means different things to different parents, and many families will bring along their own items to make the place safe for their children. However if your property attracts a lot of guests with children it is worthwhile doing some additional child-proofing. (See article on making your rental child-proof). Buying some outlet covers, cupboard and drawer locks, and a baby gate (if you have stairs) is a nice start.
It should go without saying that your property should meet current building code for your province. This is particularly important for decks and docks and any staircases, both interior and exterior. This is where liability claims arise the most.
Create a safety checklist that is followed on each changeover. This should cover checking that the smoke alarms work, there are no trip hazards either inside or outside; all deck and dock boards are secure and there are no screws that have worked themselves loose. If you have a caretaker or cleaning team, provide a fresh list for each week and have them sign and date it. Keep a copy for yourself and create a form to put in the back of your welcome book that shows the checklist has been completed.
This is like the forms you see in restrooms showing when it was last cleaned. This just gives you the evidence that all safety aspects are checked regularly.
For Your Safety (in the Welcome Book)
Create a section in your welcome book that covers safety guidelines. This can mention use of watercraft (and marine regulations on carrying safety kits and using lifejackets); water depth and cautions on diving and jumping off a dock; procedures to follow in case of a power outage; and anything else important to mention that might impact your guests safe enjoyment of the property.