Many Airbnb rentals in US cities lack fire safety features

Many Airbnb rentals in the US lack proper fire safety features. (Reuters pic)

BOSTON: Even though most rooms and homes rented through Airbnb in major US cities have smoke detectors, only about half have carbon monoxide detectors and even fewer have fire extinguishers or first-aid kits, a new study suggests.

Researchers focused on fire safety features listed among the amenities in almost 121,000 rental listings available through Airbnb in 16 cities including Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.

Smoke detectors were listed among the amenities in more than 96,000 venues overall, representing 80 percent, the study found. But just 58% of rooms and homes in the study had carbon monoxide detectors, only 42% had fire extinguishers, and a mere 36% had first-aid kits.

“This is really surprising because most fire deaths and carbon monoxide poisonings happen in residential housing,” study co-author Vanya Jones of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore said by email.

There were more than 1.3 million fires resulting in over 2,500 deaths and US$14 billion (RM55.4 billion) in property damage in the US in 2015 alone, the researchers note in Injury Prevention.

While hotels in the US are required to provide fire safety features like maps to exits, fire doors, fire extinguishers, sprinklers, and smoke detectors, the same regulations don’t apply to short-term accommodations rented in private residences, they write.

Airbnb has more than 4 million venues for rent worldwide in 65,000 cities and 191 countries, according to the study authors. This includes approximately 600,000 listings in the US.

Airbnb hosts can list many features as amenities available with their listings, including parking, Wi-Fi, laundry, or a pool, as well as safety features like fire extinguishers and carbon monoxide detectors.

Across all the cities in the study, the availability of smoke detectors ranged from a low of 74% of listings in Austin, Texas, to a high of 90% of venues in Nashville, Tennessee.

About 58% of venues listed carbon monoxide monitors, with a range from 37% in Austin to 74% in Denver.

Fire extinguishers were less common, and were listed in only 29% of rentals in New York City. Portland, Oregon, was the only city where more than half of the venues had first-aid kits.

The relatively high rates of smoke detectors in Nashville and Portland might be explained by both cities requiring prospective hosts to register a venue and obtain a permit, the study team writes.

To assess fire safety features, researchers examined data collected by the website InsideAirbnb.com between October 2015 and December 2016. InsideAirbnb.com is an independent website that compiles publicly available information about Airbnb listings posted by Airbnb hosts.

The data cover a broad period and capture a snapshot of amenities reported by hosts that might not represent what’s actually available in venues nationwide, the authors note. Some hosts might not list these features even when they have them available, especially if they live in apartment or condominium buildings that are responsible for providing some of these amenities, the researchers also point out.

In February 2018, Airbnb introduced a new rental program with enhanced features and amenities, Airbnb Plus, which only includes listings with smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, Nick Shapiro, global head of trust and risk management for Airbnb, said in an emailed statement.

“Every listing on Airbnb clearly states the specific safety amenities it has, including smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, and first-aid kits,” Shapiro said.

“Whether a home is listed on Airbnb or not, all homes and hotel rooms should have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, and first-aid kits,” Shapiro added. “At Airbnb we give out free smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to each and every host who wants one; we have been doing this for the last three years.”