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Swimply in Minnesota: Will Public Pool Statutes Make the App Sink or Swim?

23August 2021

Fifteen minutes after Jen Knoch and Tim Pearson registered their Uptown swimming pool on Swimply, Jen’s phone started buzzing with their first booking. The married couple had learned about the swimming pool rental app through a Star Tribune article, and were eager to entertain swimmers in the community with their chic poolside decor and stellar customer service.

For the couple who has owned their pool for 20 years, Swimply provides them with an easy way to earn passive income, get more use out of their pool, and get in touch with people in their community. That’s what a lot of pool owners are finding around the Twin Cities metro area—chlorine fiends willing to forgo Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes are highly interested in paying top dollar for a few hours in somebody else’s pool. 

And that’s what Sean Ryan and Ed Piechowski found—until they received a letter from the Minnesota Department of Health in the mail. The hosts of the Montrose Moderne, an Architectural Digest-worthy, in-ground 40-foot pool in St. Paul, were notified that the listing through the Swimply app makes the pool a public pool, requiring a license and plan review. “Because you are advertising this pool for use by the public, we would not consider it a true private residential pool,” the letter stated. Ryan and Piechowski would face an administrative penalty of up to $10,000 if they didn’t comply with Minnesota statutes and take down their listing from the app. 

Minnesota isn’t the first state to confront Swimply with their own pool requirements. Similar issues with Swimply arose in New York in 2020, and this year Swimply threatened a lawsuit against Wisconsin if the state continues to deter the app’s business by requiring licensing and construction requirements for Swimply hosts, according to an Associated Press article. 

Ryan and Piechowski are lobbying on behalf of their own Swimply pool, speaking with local council members, legislators, and representatives to change the existing laws and make room for the hosts of the app. The reason? To the Montrose Moderne hosts, their pool is not a public one. They get to choose who they rent their pool out to, which in their eyes makes it a private facility. “We’re not looking to be an Olympic-sized swimming pool hosting 100 people a day. You know? We’re hosting some guests in our downtime,” Piechowski says.

Per Minnesota statute, an annual license is required for any “food and beverage service establishment, youth camp, hotel, motel, lodging establishment, public pool, or resort.” The process for signing up your own pool on Swimply takes minutes—that’s what made it attractive to hosts, but a lack of supervision is what concerns the Minnesota Department of Health. 

“To avoid the administrative penalty, they must discontinue renting the pool to others until they meet all the construction requirements of a public pool and become licensed. We will notify hosts as we become aware of them about this requirement. We recommend that those interested in renting out their pool contact MDH to ensure that they are in compliance with the pool construction and licensing requirements prior to advertising it,” MDH representative Scott Smith said in a statement to Mpls.St.Paul Magazine

Asher Weinberger, the co-founder of Swimply, says these statutes won’t be great for business, but that Swimply would be interested in discussing a new licensing program with the state, just as Airbnb has done in some states.

“Of course we want to work with [the government], but to categorically say this is not allowed, and then also fit us into a pre-existing pricing system that was not built for us doesn’t fly,” Weinberger said.

According to Minnesota statute, the inspection costs of a public pool are currently $1500, and a public pool license fee is $355. The license must be renewed on an annual basis and the pool must be inspected daily by a licensed pool operator. 

Piechowski still believes his pool is a private pool, since he gets to choose who is invited to swim, and he says that he wants to see new rules made in Minnesota that cater to pool rental apps like Swimply. Other renters also agree that their pools don’t fall under the definition of a public facility.

The idea for Swimply began in 2018 with four pools in New Jersey, and the app gained traction throughout the pandemic, as Covid-conscious users wanted to eschew the public while still enjoying a quintessential summer experience—a day at a swimming pool. After some local media attention, more folks registered their pools on the app and hosts saw a jump in bookings. 

Ryan and Piechowski took their Montrose Moderne pool listing down from the app. “They’re hammering square pegs into round holes,” Piechowski says of the MDH public pools statutes. “Until we can get some things changed and change how [the Department of Health] wants to define us, I don’t think we have a future on the app,” Piechowski said. 

Weinberger said that Swimply does not represent the app’s hosts, nor does Swimply operate the hosts’ pools or act as their legal counsel. Each host is expected to do their due diligence on local and state laws and statutes, as Swimply is “very much a matchmaking platform” to connect swimmers with pools in their area, Weinberger said. 

And will these statutes impact Swimply’s business in Minnesota? And does Weinberger care? “It’s not a high priority location for us, there’s not that much going on over there, for some reason,” Weinberger says. “It seems like the government cares more about Minnesota than we do.”  

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