It’s hard not to be a little sympathetic with the Rotterdam woman who paid $250 for one of those inflatable, soft-sided swimming pools at her local K-Mart, then found out she needed $800 worth of improvements to her home — including a fence with closable gate, electrical upgrades and a pool alarm — to be on the right side of a law that town officials only recently started enforcing.
Obviously, her pool is proving to be no bargain, but ignorance of the law — or the fact the town never used to enforce it — isn’t sufficient grounds to cut her some slack.
In legal terms, swimming pools constitute what is known as an attractive nuisance: Children who don’t realize the danger they pose are going to be attracted to them, and thus somebody who owns one has to take precautions to ensure that the kids don’t get hurt. A state law addresses several specific issues for above-ground pools, and while many municipalities in the region say they enforce them, Rotterdam apparently hasn’t — until this season.
The rules apply to pools that hold two or more feet of water and don’t have a rigid sidewall at least four feet high that makes climbing or falling into them difficult. They call for fences around the perimeter, a self-closing gate, an alarm that sounds in the house if someone goes into the water, a dedicated outdoor electric outlet and a permit.
The rules weren’t adopted to support public pools or private swimming clubs, to bully people of modest means or to raise money for municipalities, but to save lives by reducing drownings and electrocutions.
It’s true that retailers who sell these low-end pools don’t always tell their customers about the rules, and the fact that abiding by them costs a fair amount of money. That, perhaps, is something localities, or even the state, might address by passing disclosure laws. While it’s ultimately the consumer’s responsibility to know the ins and outs of such things — caveat emptor — stores could certainly be more up-front about them.