Swimming app operators say Wisconsin regulators are all wet

MADISON, Wis. — The operators of a startup that allows private homeowners to rent their swimming pools by the hour said Wednesday that Wisconsin regulators are all wet and want them to back off demands that they say would kill their business.

Wisconsin is the first state to push back against Swimply, which started in 2018 with just four pools in New Jersey but has taken off during the pandemic as more people looked for private spaces to swim and have fun. The business works like an Airbnb for swimming pools. Private homeowners list their pools on the website and app as available for rent.

Most of the pools on Swimply are in warm weather locations, but it recently dove into the Wisconsin market. It currently has only about a dozen pools available to rent statewide, starting at around $35 an hour, but it’s looking to expand.

Wisconsin regulators told Swimply in April that pools offered for rent would have to be treated the same as large, public swimming pools. That means a pool’s owner would have to obtain a license and meet construction requirements that are more onerous.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, which is representing Swimply, said it will file a lawsuit if the state doesn’t back off. Wisconsin is the only state that has challenged Swimply or that the business has threatened to sue, said institute spokeswoman Erin Collins.

“We hope Wisconsin regulators agree that existing regulations for large public pools don’t apply to our business model, nor are they necessary,” Swimply co-founder Asher Weinberger said in a statement.

On April 5, an official with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection contacted Swimply through its website to let them know that a pool at a residence can’t be open to the public unless it is licensed to meet commercial code. The official cited state law that says a pool becomes public, and subject to licensing, if it is used on a regular basis by people other than the residents where it’s located.

“The reason for this is that when the public uses a pool, they are being subject to hazards that must be controlled,” wrote Mary Ellen Bruesch, a public pools specialist with the department’s Division of Food and Recreational Safety. She said the hazards include chemicals, such as acid and chlorine; microbiological; and physical, such as dangers that could lead to drowning.

“Licensing will ensure that a plan review of the construction has been done, and that operational requirements are reviewed,” she told Swimply.

Swimply in its letter said the state is interpreting the law incorrectly, inconsistently applying it and exceeding its regulatory authority.

Under the department’s interpretation, anyone with a swimming pool couldn’t rent it out on short-term home rental services such as Airbnb, Swimply’s attorneys wrote. Also, children and families could not invite others over to swim, the attorneys said.

“Small groups of family and friends can swim in a private residential pool, just like the owners of the pool can,” Swimply’s attorneys Luke Berg and Lucas Vebber told the state.

Leeann Duwe, a spokeswoman for DATCP, said the agency was reviewing the letter for a response.