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This app offers sweltering San Diegos a private bath—and a side business for pool owners

In San Diego, there’s a new solution to those sweltering days when you’re frustrated at not having access to a private swimming pool: an AirBnB-style app called Swimply that’s letting people build their backyard pools for about $50 can rent to strangers hour.

Fans of the platform, which launched nationwide in April, say it’s a lucrative sideline for pool owners and a budget-friendly way for families who don’t have a pool to spend a quiet afternoon swimming in someone else’s yard.

“I think a lot of people are trying it because it’s something new and seems like a cool concept,” said Becca Torres, who rents out the pool at her Point Loma home eight to 10 times a month. “We have this great pool, we love sharing it with people and we can make some money from it, so why not?”

Torres is among more than 125 pool owners in San Diego County who have already started promoting their pools on Swimply, which accounts for 15 percent of every transaction. The company’s fee covers liability insurance, which protects pool owners from injury, drowning, and property damage.

The website lists pools for rent throughout the area, including in Spring Valley, Lakeside, La Mesa, Alpine, Oceanside, Poway, and Bonita.

Hourly fees vary from $25 to $150 depending on the equipment, with many pool owners charging extra if you have more than five people or want to use their hot tub and grill. For example, Torres charges $80 an hour, so a four-hour session with five people at their pool would cost $320 — plus $35 if you want to use the hot tub and $25 for the grill.

Powered by millions in venture capital funding, Swimply has been expanding rapidly since it soft launched here last year. After a more formal launch in April, the company began marketing and advertising more aggressively, including some billboards in San Diego. It is now available in 125 markets including Canada.

One Oregon family says they made $177,000 by renting out their pool multiple times a day, but co-founder Bunim Laskin said this week most participants don’t get as aggressive.

Torres said her family makes about $3,000 a month. Her and her husband’s decision to join Swimply wasn’t prompted by a financial crisis or concerns they wouldn’t be able to afford tuition by the time their kids are college-ready, she said.

Rather, it was about getting other people to enjoy their lavish pool, which the Swimply website describes as “a tropical Point Loma oasis with a grotto and a slide.”

“It was a really good experience,” she said. “For the first few families we had, I thought it could go either way because it was a bit awkward. But now it’s easy.”

Your pool is on a lower level of the property than the house, making it more private for guests and the Torres family.

“It’s a little bit easier for us to manage because it’s almost separate,” she said. “To be honest, we haven’t had a bad experience. We’ve had guests turn the music up a bit, but at 4pm it’s not the end of the world.”

Like AirBnB, the Swimply site tries to weed out people who might be causing problems by allowing customers and hosts to rate each other. The site also has a page specifically for pool owners’ neighbors to complain about noise, parking, and other issues.

Laskin said it was inevitable that local governments would start regulating sites like Swimply, noting he’s already had discussions with leaders in some communities.

“I think it’s a super gray area and everything that gray people like to color in,” he said.

Laskin claims that Swimply lacks some of the negative aspects AirBnB critics focus on, such as competing with hotels or raising rents by taking apartments off the market.

While Swimply comes with more noise and potential parking issues in some areas, Laskin estimates that 70 percent of its customers are families who don’t have access to a private pool — either their own or a friend’s.

“We just do a lot of good without breaking anything,” he said.

Laskin, 25, said the idea came to him four years ago at his family home in New Jersey, when a neighbor was building a pool and Laskin’s family wouldn’t let him use it until they agreed to pay 25 percent of the maintenance costs.

“When four other families agreed to help as well, I realized that this thing that she feared would cost her money was actually making her money, and I thought that might be something,” he said.

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