Christchurch Airbnb fire a wake-up call for the accommodation industry

Six members of a Malaysian family of 10 were taken to hospital after fire broke out in this Christchurch Airbnb property ...
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/STUFF

Six members of a Malaysian family of 10 were taken to hospital after fire broke out in this Christchurch Airbnb property on Sunday night.

The tourism industry says a fire in a Christchurch Airbnb​ property is a wake-up call for accommodation providers and guests.

Six members of a Malaysian family of 10 were taken to hospital after fire broke out in the three-storey Airbnb​ rental in the suburb of Sumner on Sunday night. ​

Chief executive of Tourism Industry Aotearoa Chris Roberts said it was a reminder that peer-to-peer rentals - including Airbnb, holiday homes, and driveway campervan sites - did not have to have fire escapes and other fire safety measures that were compulsory for commercial operators. 

"Both parties in the transaction need to be aware that it doesn't come with the same securities that commercial accommodation does."

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Fire safety investigators are treating the Sumner blaze as accidental, but have not revealed the cause.

Airbnb, which has 29,000 listed properties in New Zealand, said it had provided the Malaysian family with two nights hotel accommodation.

"We are deeply saddened by the unfortunate incident in Christchurch overnight and our thoughts are with those affected."

An Airbnb spokesman said safety was of "the utmost importance" to the organisation and negative incidents were extremely rare. 

Hosts were encouraged to install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, and emergency safety cards with information about evacuation routes, fire extinguishers and emergency service numbers. 

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BookaBach​ general manager Peter Miles, who lists 12,000 holiday homes on his website, said he expected properties to be "up to code" with smoke alarms, and advised that fire extinguishers were a good idea. 

He said some councils limited the number of people staying at each property to between 10 and 12, and Bookabach kept an eye on occupancy levels. 

"If we got a three bedroom place that says it sleeps 16, we would question that.

"Most bach owners don't want their properties trashed, so in most cases people are pretty conservative about numbers. 

"Where it gets a bit scary is with peer-to-peer properties where people are trying to milk the short term investment. What's the limitation on somebody putting tonnes of bunks in a bunk room?"

Australia has a code of conduct for holiday home rentals, but Miles said enforcement was the problem. "Where's the teeth?"

Hospitality New Zealand accommodation spokesperson Rachael Shadbolt said the Christchurch fire reinforced long-held industry concerns about the need for proper fire standards and evacuation procedures.

"We're not out to ping people who rent out their baches occasionally . . . if you're making a living [out of Airbnb], you should be paying commercial rates and adhering to the regulations commercial accommodation providers have to adhere to."

Shadbolt said a few Airbnb hosts running commercial operations had approached her seeking copies of the fire evacuation notices put on the back of motel room doors. 

"But unless you are told 'you will,' a lot of people wouldn't do it."

Monitoring occupancy levels was also difficult when the owner was not on site, said Shadbolt. 

"If someone books a room for two people and rolls up with a car full of six people, the commercial accommodation provider knows and can act appropriately."

Chief executive of the Holiday Parks Association Fergus Brown said Airbnb was a great way to supply extra beds for major events or during peak season, but hosts still had to take their health and safety responsibilities seriously.

Holiday parks were required to ensure vehicles and power points met electrical safety standards, and tents and campervans had to be three metres apart, which was not always the case in unregulated freedom camping areas.

"It's ok if it's family from Dunedin coming to stay for a couple of nights, but if you have 50 people, what are the toilet facilities and the health impacts?"

 - Stuff

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