The Boston City Council just passed sweeping new rules for Airbnb

New rules on short-term rentals will shake up a booming industry.

Photo via iStock/Pixonian

It’s the start of a new era for Airbnb in Boston.

The Boston City Council voted 11-2 on Wednesday to pass new rules for short-term rentals, a policy change that would ban many units currently listed on the popular app and, in theory, free up thousands of units of accommodation in the town now used exclusively by visitors. The “no” votes came from councilors Frank Baker and Mark Ciommo.

A new city ordinance would put in place a strict new system requiring Airbnb hosts to register units with the city, pay fees and alert their neighbors. It would also ban, for the first time, what are perhaps the most despised type of Airbnb listings: so-called “investor units,” or apartments and homes listed on the app that are unoccupied. by their owners. The changes would come into effect in January, but would be delayed until September next year for hosts with existing short-term rental units.

The vote follows a push by Walsh to rein in a fast-growing industry that, in a tight housing market, has kept up to 2,000 homes out of reach for Bostonians looking for a place to live.

In a statement Wednesday, Walsh said he would sign the new rules. “My goal in regulating short-term rentals has always been to responsibly integrate the growth of the flatshare industry into our work to create affordable housing for all by striking the right balance between preserving housing while by allowing Bostonians to benefit from this new industry,” he said. “I look forward to signing this legislation and am committed to monitoring the impacts to ensure it serves its purpose in our neighborhoods.”

To use Airbnb, owners of this new system would have to register with the city and pay an annual fee: $25 to rent a room in the unit, or $200 to rent an entire unit that is either the owner’s primary residence. A host either is part of a two-family or three-family owner-occupied building. Those who own and live in multi-family homes would be allowed to rent an additional unit in those buildings for an unlimited number of days. Walsh had asked for a 120-day cap on this type of rental, but councilors voted to eliminate it. Airbnb and similar services would also be required to share data with city regulators and would have to agree to remove any units that violate the rules from its service. Several other types of other short-term rentals, including bed and breakfasts and units used for hospital purposes, would be exempt.

“This legislation balances landlords’ rights to earn additional income with protections for the housing stock under pressure from the investor-owned segment of the short-term rental industry,” Councilor Lydia Edwards wrote in a statement. . “By preventing the loss of traditional rental units to short-term rentals, the ordinance will complement citywide efforts to preserve housing units and increase the housing stock through new construction. .”

Separately, state legislators are considering a plan to tax Airbnb and other short-term rental services.

San Francisco-based Airbnb has fought back fiercely against the new regulations, arguing they would hurt a service that gives Boston residents a way to earn extra money, while offering travelers an affordable alternative to hotels. . His campaign included advertisements, e-mails and Phone calls is aimed at its users and has featured targeted specific city councilors.

The overhaul of the short-term rental sector could impact on housekeepers and others who now work to maintain the properties. It may also reduce what Airbnb described in an internal study as tourism benefits for Boston neighborhoods with fewer hotels, such as DorchesterRoxbury, Mattapan and Jamaica Plain.

In a statement after the vote, Airbnb called the decision “disappointing” and said it was “proof that our community’s feedback and concerns were not heard”:

For two years, Airbnb and our Boston hosts have worked closely with the mayor and city council members to share helpful data and collaborate on a fair home sharing policy. Today’s disappointing vote is proof that our community’s comments and concerns were not heard. The new ordinance unfortunately creates a system that violates the privacy of our guests and prevents Boston families from earning much-needed extra income in one of the nation’s most expensive cities. We hope there will be an ongoing discussion on these topics so that our community can continue to fight for their ability to share their home and make ends meet.

HomeAway, another short-term rental company that lists units in Boston, also said in a statement it was frustrated with the decision and warned it would have “dangerous consequences” for the tourism industry.

The hospitality industry trade association, meanwhile, applauded the council for “acting to protect Boston from exploitation by wealthy out-of-town interests who have purchased thousands of homes to turn them into hotels. illegal”. “, adding, “Today’s action preserves the rights of real roommates while reining in the bad actors who are contributing to Boston’s skyrocketing housing prices and wreaking havoc in many of our neighborhoods.

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