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Vacation Rental Safety Tips You Need to Know

Blog banner with the title "Vacation Safety Tips You Need to Know with Short-Term Rental Safety Expert, Justin Ford" and headshot of Justin Ford.

Vacation safety tips are on everyone’s mind as they are planning a trip, or they should be. Here at StayLakeNorman, we are lucky to be connected with Justin Ford, Director of Short-Term Rental Safety at Breezeway, who is an industry expert in vacation rental safety. We sat down with him to ask a few questions about what travelers should consider when booking a vacation rental.

As a vacation rental safety expert, what do you look for in a listing or on a website when booking a vacation rental yourself?

It’s really important for me to know that the organization I’m working with has a commitment to safety. For example, if you’re going on a cruise, it’s really nice to know that they do a lifeboat drill before you get on board. If you’re flying, it’s really nice to know that they’re going to do a safety check before you take off. So I’m looking to see that a vacation rental does that same thing. I’m looking [at a listing] to see if they have checked all the boxes. I’m looking in the photos to see if they have smoke alarms. In the photos, does it look like they have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen? I think that’s probably the biggest one. If they’ve got a fire extinguisher out and visible in the kitchen, that to me immediately says, “wow – there’s someone who’s taken that extra step. They get it.”

What about when you first arrive at your vacation rental, is there anything you would look for when you first check-in?

Low angle view of a white male testing a smoke detector in a vacation rental home.

Yeah, when you first check-in, you’ve got to do a full safety check and figure out what you’re going to do in an emergency. It’s really important to embrace the worst-case scenario. We do that with so many other parts of our lives, but in our own home, we don’t do it every day. So we just assume when we go into someone else’s home that they’ve done that for us, and they may not have. Yes, we can look around and say, there’s the hot tub, there’s the pool…but also, if there’s a fire, how am I getting out of here? And is there something to tell me that there is a fire so that I can get out of here?

Are there any red flags that people should be aware of, either during the booking process or upon arrival at a vacation property?

When you’re booking a property and you speak to somebody like a reservationist and you ask them about safety features, such as, “when was the last time you checked smoke alarms in this property, or does the property have smoke alarms? Does it have fire extinguishers?” If there’s any hesitation by the person you’re booking with and they have to think about it, that to me is a red flag.

If you call a hotel and ask that question, they’re going to say “absolutely, we do monthly fire safety checks. I just saw the fire department come through here the other day.” But when you call [a vacation rental] and they say “Hmm… I don’t know. I’ll have to check. I’m not sure.” That’s a really big red flag to me that they haven’t put a safety culture in place enough such that the reservationist is instantly saying, “Oh, yeah, absolutely. We check all of our properties for safety all the time. I know that our crew was out last month.”

A red flag when I go to a property is certainly if the smoke alarms look old and yellowed. If they’re older than 10 years or if the batteries are missing in the smoke alarms, that’s a problem.

On the part of the property owner, it’s a lack of awareness of trip hazards. We know that 83% of all accidents in short-term rentals come from slips, trips, and falls. And so many property owners are so focused on aesthetics that they don’t recognize that. For example, that throw rug that’s loosely placed in a kitchen may look great, but you might as well have frozen the floor into a sheet of ice because someone’s going to slip and fall on that.

For guests, I think one of the biggest things that they overlook relates to kids and understanding that yes, you’re on vacation and you want to relax, but you can’t drop your guard. In fact, you’ve got to lift your guard because now your kids are in an unfamiliar environment. You’ve got to be more aware than you typically are to make sure that they’re going to be safe.

outdoor seating area next to in ground pool with tall safety gate surrounding it at a StayLakeNorman luxury vacation rental

Any specific vacation safety tips you would give to families with young children?

Again, you can’t drop your guard, you have to lift your guard. Here’s a story that expands on the point I’m trying to make. It was almost two years ago that it made headlines. A man went to a vacation rental and his kid found a gun in a dresser drawer. That was the big news. A sheriff’s deputy left his gun behind and people couldn’t believe a gun was left behind in a vacation rental and the kid found it. That was not big news to me. We know over 40% of guests travel with a gun. It’s not unusual, it happens. The big news there was in the last paragraph of that story. It was that the kid had found the gun within five minutes of arrival in the second dresser drawer down in the master bedroom. What the heck is a kid doing, arriving at a vacation home and searching dresser drawers in the master bedroom? That’s the story there. You’ve got to respect and understand that kids want to explore in this new environment and you’ve got to get ahead of them. You’ve got to make sure that you’ve explored it. And don’t be surprised when they suddenly show up with matches that they found in a cabinet drawer. You may never even have talked to them about matches because you don’t have matches in your own house.

Are there any ideas you could give to parents in anticipation of providing the safest environment for their kids on vacation? Should they be having conversations with them ahead of time? Should they be doing a safety sweep when they get in the house?

I haven’t heard anybody do this yet, but it’d be great if, a few hours before arrival, the property owner sent the guests a text message saying “Hey, you’re checking in soon. Now’s the time to take a pause for a minute and talk to your kids about safety before you arrive at the property. There’s a pool there, so you should remind them that they can’t go into the pool without permission, etc.”

The same thing goes for parents. You’ve got to have a talk [with your kids]. I think just getting people to pause for a moment. They’re excited- half of a vacation is the planning and the travel to get there. Encompassing that safety piece into the planning is key.

Tell us what has made you so passionate about the work you do.

I look at what I do as just common sense. Getting people to see things differently is really what drives me the most. To point out the obvious and help people get to that level where they now are looking at things differently, that’s why I get up every day. That and knowing that people recognize that, with this information, we may have just saved some lives here.

Thank you again to Justin for his valuable insights and important vacation rental safety tips! To help you prepare for your next trip, we’ve compiled a list of quick safety checks that you can do upon arrival at any vacation rental. Just a few minutes is worth your peace of mind! And to see Justin in action, check out his spot on Good Morning America!

Vacation rental safety checklist:

  • Check for working smoke alarms on every level, in every sleeping area and as required by state law
  • Check for working carbon monoxide alarms on every level and as required by state law
  • Check for a fire extinguisher within 30 feet of all cooking appliances, including grills
  • Check to ensure cleaning products that could pose a threat to young children are safely stored away from their access
  • Check all cabinets and drawers in the kitchen accessible to children for any hazards, like matches
  • Check all dresser drawers accessible to children for any hazards
  • Check underneath coffee tables and couches if traveling with a crawling infant
  • Check hot tub and/or pool area to ensure children won’t be able to access them except with an adult
  • Make sure gates close and latch as they should, pool alarms are operational, and windows are secured
  • Have a conversation with your kids about safety