BOSTON CITY COUNCIL PASSES OVERHAUL ON AIRBNB UNITS

Published on: June 15, 2018

After months of debate, the Boston City Council on Wednesday passed rules that are designed to sharply rein in Boston’s fast-growing short-term rental business and help ease the tight housing market.

The rules, which passed on an 11-to-2 vote, are among the most stringent efforts in the nation to regulate the burgeoning industry. The rules would bar investors and tenants from renting their homes through popular websites such as Airbnb, while allowing homeowners and owner-occupants of two- and three-family houses to continue to do so. Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who first proposed the bill in January, said he will sign it into law.

Supporters say they hope the measure will relieve pressure on a housing market where an estimated 2,000 apartments are being rented by the night to tourists, instead of through a traditional 12-month lease. The rules are not perfect, they acknowledged, but after nearly three years of studying the issue while short-term rentals proliferated, backers said it was time to move forward.

The new rules take effect Jan. 1, but current short-term rental hosts will have until September 2019 to operate under the old system. That last-minute change was a concession to landlords worried about having a flood of apartments hit the market in the typically slow month of January, and to give the estimated hundreds of people working in the short-term rental industry more time to find new jobs.

After the council’s vote, conversation quickly turned to how to make sure the regulations are effective. In other cities, officials have had a difficult time enforcing such limits on short-term rentals.

The rules require short-term rental hosts to register with the city annually and to pay a $200 fee. City officials hope that registry, which will be publicly available, will provide a clearer picture of the scope and location of short-term rental activity in Boston, while also giving the city someone to contact if neighbors call with complaints about loud parties or sidewalks choked with wheelie bags. But not all council members were convinced.

The lack of good data has frustrated advocates on both sides of the issue, from activists who’ve researched Airbnb’s website to find out how many short-term rentals are in their neighborhoods, to Homeaway, a vacation-rental platform that criticized Wednesday’s action as the culmination of what was “not a fact-based process.”

Several people involved in the debate suggested that the regulations could soon be revisited, despite the lengthy process to get to this point. Walsh’s chief of housing, said the office would be watching closely to see if short-term rental activity — and any related displacement of long-term tenants — lessens, or simply moves to new neighborhoods where small multifamily buildings would still be eligible for nightly rentals.

People who operate short-term rentals also said it will take time to measure the effect of the regulations.

For housing advocates who’ve watched short-term rentals boom in their neighborhoods, sometimes pushing out vulnerable renters in the process, the crackdown can’t come fast enough.

If you have any questions regarding this article, please contact Matt Gaines at mgaines@meeb.com.