Why renting your pool is illegal in San Jose
Resident Crystal Campisi wants San Jose to make private pool rentals legal, and has spoken to officials about amending city code. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Splashing and laughter coming from a neighbor’s swimming pool leaves residents wishing they had their own on a sizzling day. There’s a pool rental service for that, but not in San Jose.

Swimply—like Airbnb for swimming pools—developed an app to connect homeowners with those seeking a backyard oasis. The idea has spread like wildfire, with more than 25,000 listings in 125-plus markets across the U.S., Canada and Australia, but not in San Jose where private pool rentals are illegal.

Swimply founder and CEO Bunim Laskin, 25, started the company in 2018 and launched the app in 2019. The idea came to Laskin five years earlier when he and his 11 siblings were stuck at home. He offered to pay 25% of a neighbor’s pool maintenance expenses if his family could use their pool. From there, he knocked on doors and other neighbors agreed to let him rent out their pools, and a business was born.

Currently, the company brings in eight figures a month of revenue, Laskin said. Investors, including AirBnb and Lime, are smitten with the idea as well, helping Laskin raise $51.2 million. 

“More than ever people are looking for ways to be alive and enjoy time with their families and friends,” Laskin told San Josè Spotlight. “Swimply is a pretty amazing incremental revenue they can earn on the side with some owners earning over $10,000 a month.” 

Swimply, which takes a 15% commission, also covers homeowners with up to $1 million in liability insurance and $10,000 in property damage insurance, and requires renters to sign waivers, he said.

But for one San Jose resident who joined the Swimply app, things didn’t go as planned. 

In 2021, resident Crystal Campisi rented out her pool through Swimply for a few hours at a time, providing families with a place to swim when other pools were closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. For the 66-year-old retiree, it provided her with an income of $1,000 a month and helped others, she said. 

“I realized there was a critical need,” Campisi said.

Although she often rented to families, renters included a Christian group that baptized someone in her hot tub, a mermaid shooting a video and a bachelorette party.

That came to an end when a neighbor turned her in. Campisi received a cease and desist letter from city code enforcement threatening her with fines up to $1,200 per day for renting out her pool, she said. She stopped, but wonders how it’s fair when she regularly sees listings of San Jose pools available to rent from Swimply.

“It should be legal for everyone or illegal for everyone,” she told San José Spotlight. “I’d like to make it legal.”

No code for pool rentals

Martina Davis, San Jose division manager for planning, building and code enforcement, said pool rentals don’t fit with the city’s zoning that regulates the commercial use of residential properties. An amendment to the zoning code would be needed. Regulations for Airbnb wouldn’t apply, Davis said, as they were written specifically about people staying in a dwelling unit. It doesn’t address outdoor swimming pool rentals. 

“We regularly do code updates,” Davis told San Josè Spotlight. “I don’t know that this one would be terribly difficult or complicated. It’s just more a matter of getting it on the prioritization list so that we can allocate resources to doing the work… It’s up to the council to prioritize what we’re working on.”

Campisi reached out to the two mayoral candidates, San Jose Councilmember Matt Mahan and Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, for help. She also had email exchanges with City Manager Jennifer Maguire.

Chavez said she’d want to speak with neighborhoods about parking concerns, determine guidelines for pool use and ensure pool rentals had the right level of insurance coverage.

“In an era of climate change when you look for innovative ways to share resources this is a really interesting idea,” Chavez told San Josè Spotlight. “There are a lot of families that don’t have pools… so renting one might make a lot of sense.”

Mahan was unavailable for comment.

Rachel Roberts, deputy director of San Jose’s code enforcement division, said it takes “quite a bit of resources” to change a city ordinance.

“We would have to do outreach, research and due diligence so what was put forth to council is productive,” she told San Josè Spotlight. “It’s important we make sure we invest time engaging with the stakeholders so we can get a good understanding of the outcomes.”

Roberts said the greatest challenge is finding the time and workers to dedicate to this.

“It’s not a priority for us to bring forward for our division,” she said. “We’re very under-resourced for a city of our size, so when we have vacancies on top of that, it gets to be very challenging.”

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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