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Safety steps Airbnb renters can take -- and measures that operators must

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A deadly fire that swept through a building in Old Montreal on Thursday where several apartments were being used as Airbnb units is raising safety concerns about short-term rental properties.

Here are several steps guests can take to protect themselves:

For guests:

Check to see a rental's registration number is posted in the listing as a way to confirm the operation is above board. (City officials said short-term rentals are illegal in Old Montreal, with 10 establishments authorized to operate, having been grandfathered in. Yet Airbnb lists more than 1,000 places for rent.)

Scan the online reviews for any safety concerns.

On arrival, confirm that smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are in place, and test them. Guests can even bring their own just in case.

Look out for flammable materials near a gas stove, such as curtains or paper towels.

Check the house manual for an evacuation plan, and map out an escape plan.

For hosts:

Airbnb suggests operators install carbon monoxide alarms near every sleeping area, and smoke alarms on every level as well as outside each bedroom "at a minimum." Check the batteries at least twice a year. Rentals must comply with all local safety regulations -- on fire escapes and emergency exits, for example.

Install fire extinguishers in the kitchen, garage and on every floor "if possible." Put stickers on doors and cabinets where they're located to make them easier to find.

In the house manual, lay out an evacuation plan that includes two ways to exit each room and a place to meet outside.

Ensure proper ventilation and regular inspection of household appliances such as gas stoves, water heaters, ovens and charcoal grills. Wood and coal stoves, fireplaces and furnaces should be cleaned by professionals once a year, the company says.

Remind guests in the house manual that they should never use a grill or camp stove indoors -- for warmth or other reasons. If there are space heaters, choose a model that turns off when tipped over. Make sure wires and cables are in good condition.

RISING DEMAND

Short-term rentals have surged over the past year, as consumers return to travel after more than two years of COVID-19-related restrictions.

Now, even as high inflation and interest rates erode travellers' spending power and the profit margins of hosts with mortgages to pay down, Airbnb and other platforms continue to see a rush of customers eager to rent a spot.

Airbnb and Vrbo listings grew by 41 per cent in Toronto, 38 per cent in Montreal and 49 per cent in Vancouver between the final quarter of 2021 and the same period last year, according to AirDNA, which tracks short-term rental units worldwide.

- This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 20, 2023.

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