Philadelphia City Council bill aims to curb Airbnb hosts

Neighbors in the 800 block of Wharton Street in South Philadelphia describe crowded weekend parties at an Airbnb on their street, where, over the summer and winter, guests hung out regularly spread on sidewalks and streets. The doors slammed. Guests left behind empty bottles and vomit. The music, shouting and horns sometimes didn’t go quiet until 4 a.m.

The property owner rents the townhouse to tenants, not guests of the short-term rental company. The property is one of nearly 100 Airbnbs that Pad Suites, a management company, says it lists in four cities. The home owner declined to comment and is talking to a lawyer.

A City Council bill introduced this month would put an end to complicated arrangements like this. This would require that those offering their primary residences for short-term rental are either the owners of the properties or tenants who have written permission from the owner to profit from the use of the properties by others. The city would treat them like businesses and require them to obtain free business activity licenses as well as limited accommodation operator licenses offered for $150 per year. City officials adapted the legislation from similar rules in New York and Boston.

Legislation requires licenses even if residents only rent out their homes for a few weekends a year. Current municipal law requires permits for those who rent homes for more than 90 days per year. Some operators deliberately stay below the threshold to avoid regulation. If the bill passes, everyone — owners and renters — who rents a home must also use licensed booking agents and follow local zoning requirements.

” LEARN MORE: How a scammer used Airbnb to rent a Philadelphia apartment he didn’t even own

City officials and police are receiving complaints from people living in city neighborhoods about guests hosting parties that disrupt quiet residential streets. Neighbors reported fights, drug dealing and shootings at short-term rental sites.

Gunshots rang out from a rental along Wood Street, just outside the Old Town, in late May. The house, which had been listed on Airbnb for a few years, “unbeknownst to us, was starting to become a party hub,” said Alice Reyes, vice president of Franklin Bridge North Neighbors, the registered community organization that covers the area of ​​the Ben Franklin Bridge at Callowhill Street and I-95 at North Sixth Street.

“The neighbor whose house abuts this house, they moved out for six months, because they couldn’t take it anymore,” Reyes said. The Airbnb property owner has sold the property, but several other party homes in the area are still listed on the platform.

One of the main problems with short-term rentals is that no one knows how to contact the people who are renting the property, said City Council member Mark Squilla, who introduced the bill. Requiring licenses lets the city know who’s handling the rentals and who to contact if there’s a problem, he said.

“We think by doing this we’ll have more control over bad operators,” Squilla said, adding that he wasn’t trying to get rid of Airbnbs. “We want to make sure they don’t have a negative impact on the communities they are in.”

In a statement, an Airbnb spokesperson said the company is reviewing the proposed legislation and “look[s] look forward to working with the city to ensure that short-term rentals can be an important part of Philadelphia’s post-pandemic recovery.

A year ago, Airbnb launched listing verification procedures. In August, the company announced a global ban on parties. In November alone, the platform suspended or removed dozens of ads in Philadelphia for violating party policies.

In addition to notifying Airbnb, neighbors say they call the police, watch the officers tell the occupants not to, and see the parties continue after the officers leave. Enforcement of Squilla’s legislation would be key, Franklin Bridge North Association leaders said.

“It will be up to residents to keep an eye and an ear out and document and facilitate this process with the city,” Reyes said. “We just hope the city responds to that.”

” LEARN MORE: South Jersey City approves move to ban Airbnbs after complaints of wild parties at Muhammad Ali’s former mansion

The Hapco Philadelphia Landlords Association is working on a model lease for landlords that explicitly states that tenants are prohibited from renting their units without the permission of their landlords, said Paul Cohen, the attorney for the ‘association. Cohen said he had never seen a lease that allowed tenants to use their homes that way. When leases don’t mention renting the unit at all, “you’re in the gray area” and open to litigation, he said.

Rue Landau, a professor of housing law at Temple Law School and former executive director of the city’s Fair Housing Commission, said she sees value in ensuring housing operators are licensed.

“Like rental housing, it is a good idea for the City of Philadelphia to create a license for limited accommodation operators, so the city knows who is operating these businesses and renting these properties in an emergency or for have direct contact with the business operators,” she said.

Robert Gurmankin, president of Franklin Bridge North Neighbors, said he hopes new Airbnbs regulations can provide relief to neighbors. Over the winter, the rowdy gatherings in his neighborhood died down.

But, he said, “we fear we will have the same problem in the spring.”

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