Philly to start regulating Airbnbs in hopes of stopping unruly party houses

One house had a closet ripped out to make way for a DJ station. Others held raucous rooftop parties until the wee hours of the morning, keeping neighbors awake with loud music and fireworks, leaving trash and liquor bottles in their wake. Another was the site of a non-lethal shotwith neighbors retracing the explosive fight to an argument with party guests.

The houses, rented on Airbnb, are seen by many residents as a blight on their neighborhood, causing noise issues, excessive litter and, in the worst cases, sometimes violent and unruly behavior.

In order to stem the tide of unauthorized parties, The Philadelphia City Council passed a bill which will take effect in April and will require landlords who rent out their homes through Airbnb and other rental market apps to obtain short-term rental licenses. The invoice will work alongside an Airbnb policy in place since summer 2020 that blocks or redirects people under 25 trying to book houses.

While some city officials and residents welcome these policies, others see them as another obstacle for local businesses that thrive on tourism and for people who depend on short-term projects. income rentals, especially during the pandemic.

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According to proprietary data released last week, Airbnb has blocked or redirected about 12,500 people under the age of 25 from booking homes in Philadelphia in 2021, a scheme they say is aimed at stopping parties. Anyone under the age of 25 without enough positive Airbnb reviews cannot book an entire household in their area.

In neighboring New Jersey, the system prevented or diverted about 10,000 people from doing the same last year.

The “anti-party system,” as Airbnb calls it, came in response to reports from neighbors at rental homes who had constant complaints of noise or nuisance, said Ben Breit, an Airbnb spokesperson. Although Airbnb has a forum for neighbors to report problems, the system was intended to prevent these “problem homes” from continuing to operate.

“With a party house, we’re talking about a house where we get calls weekend after weekend where it seems to be a chronic issue with the property itself,” Breit said. “Maybe the host is allowing parties or maybe they’re not doing enough to stop them.”

Kevin Devine, a Point Breeze resident, said he heard loud music coming straight into his room late at night and early in the morning. A house directly across from hers would have rooftop parties aligned with her bedroom.

“They would have parties and since the house has a roof terrace, the 2 a.m. music would play right into my master bedroom on the third floor,” Devine said. “A party was supposed to have 100 to 150 people, Solo cups, beer cans and bottles thrown all over the alley.”

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Devine reported the address to Airbnb, but was told it was not one of their listed properties. Guess then found the owner, who told him directly that he was renting through Airbnb.

Nina Smithe and her partner faced similar issues in Point Breeze, when they moved into their rental home in October 2020.

“We had no problems until late spring and all summer when people started renting the house for parties,” Smithe said. “Almost every weekend we were woken by screams and rages from the roof terrace and even in front from 12 p.m. to 4 a.m. Sometimes fireworks. We noticed trash left on our side consisting of old balloons and huge amounts of empty liquor containers.

Like Devine, Smithe struggled to connect with the landlord and Airbnb.

The city does not currently have data on short-term rental issues, said Karen Guss, spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Licensing and Inspections.

It was a lack of accountability and regulation coupled with reports from residents of noise and nuisance issues in these homes that led City Council member Mark Squilla to introduce legislation. last February.

“About three years ago we started getting more and more complaints about harmful properties and at the time we didn’t realize they were short-term rentals,” Squilla said. “If they are a nuisance, how would we quote them? We realized we had nothing that could take them out of the market in the short term.

The bill, which was passed in June, will require those offering their primary residence for short-term rental to either own the properties or have written permission from the landlord. Properties will be treated as businesses by the city and be required to obtain free business activity licenses as well as limited accommodation operator licenses offered for $150 per year.

Under the new measure, anyone who rents a home must also use licensed booking agents and follow local zoning requirements. If a landlord chooses not to acquire the license, they can still use the property for long-term rentals, Squilla said.

For some residents, the measure is just another brand against city residents who have opted for short-term rentals as an alternative income.

Mitchell Nase, a Point Breeze resident, said party houses are the exception and most Airbnbs aren’t a problem.

“Developing new laws and imposing stricter requirements on Airbnb businesses in the city clearly benefits hotels and hurts small Airbnb owners or managers,” Nase said. “Those hosting the parties aren’t going to follow the regulations anyway, so that won’t actually solve the problem, but it will make it harder for people following the rules to stay in business.”

Airbnb’s system is meant to find and filter out the proverbial bad apples, Breit said.

“You can make rules all day, but we’re obviously realistic that while the overwhelming majority of our customers are good people traveling for the right reasons – and they absolutely are – it’s those needles in the haystack with those who don’t. let’s not care about the rules and try to bend them, which we have to focus on, ”said Breit.

Just months before the city’s measures came into effect and the busy summer season, Squilla assured residents that the policy was in place for the right reasons.

“It’s not something to close a deal with,” Squilla said. “It’s just saying, ‘You have to comply with the regulations that are put in place.’ ”

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