The sounds of summer are a thing of joy for most people. The birds, the splashing, dogs barking, and the neighborhood kids playing outside. Warmth and life return to the streets. But then there are places such as Montgomery County, Maryland .
The Washington, D.C. , suburb and home to Chevy Chase, Gaithersburg, Rockville, and Takoma Park is a liberal stronghold within an already liberal region. It’s the kind of place where you can spot a progress pride flag in any direction and feel the welcoming presence of signs reading “No Human Is Illegal” every few yards. Of course, this won’t apply if you’re an “outsider” visiting a Montgomery County neighborhood with the hopes of swimming in a privately owned backyard pool.
A fast-growing app called Swimply has been causing a stir in communities nationwide, but most of all on the posh streets of Montgomery County, where residents are voicing anger and fear over private pools being rented out to strangers looking to beat the heat. It’s a “tremendous nuisance” that has “disturbed” residents and led them to call for a local crackdown on the service, which operates much like an Airbnb but for pools. The function of pool-sharing is simple in a world where app-based, short-term rental markets are now a mainstream idea.
Instead of consumers having to shell out $500 per season to access a private community pool, Swimply allows families and individuals to connect with homeowners who rent out their pools on an hourly basis. Rates average between $45 to $75 on Swimply. It’s a pretty good deal for everyone involved.
But then again, this is happening in a neighborhood that infamously sought to ban dogs from barking in 2019. The town of Chevy Chase naively thought it could drop $134,000 to turn a mud pit into a dog park without an outcry from residents, who similarly called it a “nuisance” bringing in outsiders to the neighborhood.
This language feels awfully coded for the 86.7% white suburb in a county where 60% of residents are Democrats and merely 14% are registered Republicans. It’s doubtful the worrisome outsiders they speak of in town meetings are similarly homogeneous.
It’s understandable that some homeowners find it annoying when a pool party is being held next door. Thankfully, Montgomery County has tools already in place to help residents manage disturbances in their area, such as a web portal for submitting noise complaints. There’s also the bare minimum of neighborly behavior, which is verbal communication and conversation about community matters. The shortcut more often taken is to harangue town council members into banning these services in hopes of making innovations in the sharing economy go away. But they won’t.
That’s because none of this is new, thanks in large part to Airbnb’s success in advancing the commonsense idea that homeowners maintain the right to earn additional monthly income by sharing their property with others, if they so choose. Swimply will most likely win the right to equal protection under the short-term rental policies already in place for bigger players such as Airbnb.
The amenities being offered by Swimply, private pools and now pickleball courts, are already part of what an Airbnb user can enjoy when they rent out a whole property for a short stay. They can’t be denied to a Swimply user under a different set of arbitrary rules.
The wannabe regulators next door can’t decide on what the concern really is. In a letter to Councilman Will Jawando, 36 residents leaned on everything from noise and drownings to dog poop, strains on the sewer system, and, yes, the inherent racism of sharing economy apps as reasons to ban them. On paper, these “In This House We Believe” types aren’t anxious about visiting renters from the inner city; instead they say, “These pools do NOT have to comply with laws covering discrimination on the basis of race, creed, religious belief, etc. This means, of course, that the owners renting these pools will be able to refuse to rent on these bases. Does the County really want to promote activities that are permitted to discriminate?”
No one believes this is their genuine concern.
One of the concerned citizens told the local media about dog parks, “I’d like to be able to sit on my deck and maybe read a book and chat with a friend or have a glass of wine, and the dogs are barking.” Another co-signer to the letter told the Washington Post that she once had to close her window because of occasional noise.
Pool-sharing is just the latest addition to the growing network of peer to peer services that bring so much flexibility, fun, and adventure to the modern economy. It certainly won’t be the last. Consumers love it, as do countless homeowners with private property they wish to share. Let the people swim.
Originally published here