Overlooked, until it is too late: Talking Short-term Rental Safety with Justin Ford

Thibault Masson

Updated on:


(This article is part of our series: Vacation rental safety & is Airbnb safe?)

RentalScaleUp.com brings you an exclusive interview with Justin Ford, one of the most renowned safety experts and sought-after consultants in the short-term rental industry.

Currently working as the Director of Safety & Certification Programs at Breezeway, Justin has over 25 years of combined experience in safety inspection and certification across different industries and has more than ten decades of experience consulting on safety issues in the vacation rental sector.

We had mentioned Justin’s work on Rental Scale-Up before when we covered his previous work with Dwell Safe on safety and security certifications. As for Breezeway, we talked about using checklists to ensure consistent levels of quality, safety, and cleanliness with Tucker Cohen a couple of months ago.

In conversation with RentalScaleUp, Justin talks about his experiences working in the industry and shares some valuable insights that will catch property managers’ and owners’ attention.

Here we round-up the most critical points, but if you want to watch the full interview, please click on the video below. / The full interview is available on the following link.

Video: Breezeway’s Justin Ford on why vacation rental safety matters (and is ROI positive)

Safety, security, and cleanliness: What is it all about, and does it matter?

Safety and security are some of the most important issues for property owners and managers around the globe. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, cleanliness has been added to this list, as cleanliness has become a critical issue for travelers and hosts.

Yet, these buzzwords can often be confusing to vacation rental owners and property managers, especially to newcomers in the industry. Justin Ford thinks that “there are three important focuses and they get skewed together a lot lately.” According to Justin, safety, security, and cleanliness are often seen as different aspects of the same thing, which is certainly not the case.

When short-term rental property managers and owners tackle safety, security, and cleanliness head-on, they can mitigate all risks associated with them. In that case, they can create a seamless experience for travelers.

In fact, setting up a listing according to safety and security regulations can serve to protect owners’ interests and ensure that guests can enjoy a more comfortable and safe stay, which is a good predictor for returning guests.

With this in mind, it is crucial for anyone in the vacation rental business to understand the differences between safety, security, cleanliness, and how they are addressed. 

What aspects does security cover?

“Security is a topic that’s been covered a lot in the news lately,” says Justin. According to him, security for short-term rentals is mainly connected to questions such as ‘How secure a neighborhood is?’, or for example, ‘Do all doors and windows in the property lock properly?’.

Security issues in the short-term rental industry are generally concerned with security systems and whether properties are equipped with them.“Does a property have a security system in place, such as ring cameras or security surveillance cameras?” are important things to consider when introducing security features in a short-term rental, according to Justin Ford.

The importance of ensuring security is reflected by the fact that the security features of a property may have a deciding factor for many travelers, which may be even more important for travelers in specific regions or cities.

Vacation Rental Safety

vacation rental safety

On the other hand, safety is more focused on travelers’ well-being once they check-in in a listing. According to Justin, “addressing things that are going to ensure that the guests don’t get injured or hurt, or worse – die, because of an accident in the rental due to carelessness and the way the rental is set up” is the primary safety concern.

Justin, who at one point in his career worked as a firefighter, recalls a case when a family from urban Chicago rented a property in the countryside. “One of the greatest examples that I like to talk about is a family from Chicago, Illinois, that lived in a condo townhouse type of building. They didn’t have a wood stove. They didn’t have a fireplace; they didn’t have matches. And they raised their children there. They never had to talk about fire and fire safety and matches and candles because that’s just not something they had in their house.”

Justin explains that at one point, the family wanted to go on a vacation outside the city, in nature. Then the family decided to go on a holiday in New England, where they rented a vacation rental.

“Eventually, the two kids, which were four and seven, ended up catching the house on fire because they found matches and started playing with them,” Justin explains and says that this is an excellent example of how awareness about safety issues can prevent incidents from happening.

“The host and the owner of that rental property never even thought about that. They thought, ‘Hey, let’s leave matches out if people want to bake a birthday cake or make a fire.’ And yet here, this fire burns the house down, and then it killed the grandfather and the dad”, he explains.

According to Justin, this unfortunate example highlights that rental owners and managers can not really know who will be staying in their properties, so they must account for all eventualities.

vacation rental safety trippinh

As for the different kinds of mobility requirements and limitations that guests may have, Justin explains that “You don’t know who’s coming in to stay. You don’t know what their background is. You don’t know that they may not be able to walk well in a low lighting situation, that they might be more susceptible to trips and falls than other people”.

That is why Justin advises all hosts to think about these questions and prepare. “You’ve got to step back and you have to prepare your house, make sure that when people are staying in it, that they’re going to be safe from every different angle”, he clarifies.

Why must property owners take into account all aspects?

Short-term rental platforms such as Vrbo and Airbnb make traveling accessible for many people to travel. More affordable travel means that people from different countries and cultures can travel. In today’s industry, “you don’t know the background of the people that come to stay in your rental,” says Justin.

According to Justin, property managers have to bear in mind that there are different profiles of guests with disabilities and other accessibility needs, or from different age groups, so it is essential to boost safety measures. Some real-life examples prove that there is a high price for small mistakes, like the example with the family from Chicago.

Vacation Rental Cleanliness – Important, but is about neither Security nor Safety

short-term rental safety cleanliness

The health (well-being) aspect has been particularly important with the COVID-19 pandemic. “I think it’s all about when it comes to short term rentals, how healthy can the guests be when they’re staying there? Are they going to get sick because the cleaning procedures aren’t attended to properly? What type of cleaning procedures are done to ensure the guests can have a healthy stay?”

Regional differences and approaches to safety and security

As someone who has consulted for a major OTA, Justin shares insights about the differences that exist between safety measures implemented by property managers in different countries. “The first thing that [the OTA] said to me is we’re concerned about North America, but we’ve got real problems in Greece in Mexico and accidents are happening all over”.

vacation rental pool safety

Justin is reminded of some of the horror stories that have happened in vacation rentals. “I just saw where there was a pool drowning in Spain in a holiday vacation rental that did not have any protection around it”. Safety inspections and safety measures that property managers implement make some countries, such as the UK having fewer accidents than others.

“The UK, I think, is a leader in the world. When I am visiting the UK and Ireland, I’m always very impressed with a lot of the safety features, like fire safety blankets for example. On top of that there’s a lot of safety inspections. There’s some opportunities to do better in the UK and Ireland, but these accidents are happening all over the world. And yeah, Mexico is a bad place. We’ve seen a lot of really dangerous accidents down there. And, I was down there last November, and it scares me to death to see some of the things that are not in place from a safety point of view,” says Justin. 

Integrating security and design

Very often, the case is that as a vacation rental owner or manager, you’ve invested a lot of money and energy into creating the perfect holiday rental. The aesthetics and design of a rental property are always one of its top-selling attributes. As a price-sensitive feature, it can add a lot of value to your listing.

As such, you’ve likely turned to the expertise of architects and interior designers to maximize the visual aspects and ergonomics of your listing. However, safety features do not always balance well with aesthetics and ergonomics.

designer fire extinguisher by safe t
Designer fire extinguishers by Safe-T

Justin understands the perspective of the property managers, and he agrees that “nobody wants to put a fire extinguisher out in their kitchen in that they’ve done all this beautiful work to make it look perfect. And just the right granite and just the right, you know, backsplash and hundreds of dollars invested in this wonderful faucet. And then we’re going to put an ugly fire extinguisher next to it”. However, he notes that “you just got to accept that if you’re inviting the paying public and you have now made this into a commercial enterprise, and you’re really no different from that sense from a hotel. 

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