Mayor Walsh proposed a citywide ordinance today establishing guidelines and regulations to regulate short-term rentals, i.e., Airbnb. Most notable is a 90-day limit for residential units rented via Airbnb and other similar sites. While details are in flux, only commercially zoned properties(i.e., hotels) would be able to exceed the 90-day limit. City officials believe this will keep more apartments as long-term rentals, stabilizing the housing stock.

Boston’s North End has been “Ground Zero” for short-term rentals with hundreds of units listed on sites such as Airbnb during peak tourist season. Recently, Commonwealth Magazine reported that corporate entities are gobbling up dozens of units and using fake listing identies like “Anthony” and other pseudonyms. [See more coverage on short-term rentals.]

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Similar to the plan previously proposed by State Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, the Mayor’s proposed ordinance takes a three-tiered approach to classifying short-term rental units:

  1. Limited Share Unit: consists of a private bedroom or shared space in the operator’s primary residence, in which the operator is present during the rental. The fee associated with this classification is $25 per year.
  2. Home Share Unit: consists of a whole unit available for a short-term rental at the primary residence of the operator (unit in which operator resides for at least nine months out of a 12 month period). The fee associated with this classification is $100 per year.
  3. Investor Unit: consists of an entire unit available for a short-term rental in a whole dwelling that is non-owner and non-tenant occupied. The fee associated with this classification is $500 per year.

New City Councilor for District 1 (North End, Charlestown and East Boston), Lydia Edwards, said the proposal is the step in the right direction, while expressing concerns and advocating a “balanced approach.”

“The Mayor’s decision to regulate short-term rentals in Boston is a welcomed start to a necessary discussion about protecting our housing stock,” said Edwards. “The devastating impact of short-term rentals can be seen city-wide and is exasperated by absentee landlords and multi-unit owners. I hope we get a balanced approach that returns the short-term rental market back to its original intent of providing supplemental income to residents living at the property and provides a way to hold hosts accountable to their neighbors.”

While State efforts to pass legislation have faltered, the North End’s Rep. Michlewitz supported the city’s proposal. “The mayor and his team have struck a good balance between allowing the short-term rental market to continue to provide alternative means of occupancy, while putting any further growth in the hands of the local community process by forcing anything over 90 days to have to change usage from residential to commercial,” Michlewitz said in a statement.

With the filing, the Mayor’s proposed ordinance goes to the Boston City Council for debate and approval. Some councilors, including Michelle Wu are expressing concern and questioning why an “investor” class should exist for absentee landlords. Wu points out that the 90-day limit would still allow a property owner to use Airbnb for 45 weekends a year.

Correction: This article was updated on January 23, 2018 to clarify that a 90-day limit applies to all residential units whether owner occupied or investor (absentee landlord). Only commercial use (i.e., hotel) properties would be allowed to exceed the 90-day limit. Please also note that this is a proposal that could be significantly changed as it goes through the city ordinance and state legislative process.

11 COMMENTS

  1. $500/year? That’s hardly a deterrent. These LLC company’s typically hold more than 1 property so they can scale. The cost of 1 long weekend is supposed to deter an entire investor class renting an entire building out as much as possible? Those in the “investor class” just got the green light to scoop up more properties. FAIL!

  2. $500 a year?? What is this going to do to these rich investors?? Nothing, absolutely nothing! Why doesn’t the City of Boston and/or Mayor Walsh ban AirBnBs altogether?? How are these hotels supposed to survive? This is such a disgrace and once again, the North End gets *@!($# over!!! Maybe there should be an AirBnB next to the Mayor’s house. I’m sure he wouldn’t allow it.
    Why even bother?

  3. Hi folks, I updated this article to correct that all residential units (including “investor”, absentee landlords) would be subject to the 90 day annual limit under the Mayor’s proposal. Only commercial use (i.e., hotel) properties would be allowed to exceed the 90 days a year. The “investor” category and its $500 fee is for absentee landlords (vs $100 for owner occupied) but still subject to the 90 day limit. Of course, this is just a proposal and there will likely be significant changes as it progresses through the process, including City Council review, as well as the pending State legislation.

  4. The North End (and probably all of the city) should be limited to only owner occupied short term rentals. We have problems that are solved by having neighbors: Our streets are filthy, attacks at night, noise disturbances, etc. The quote in the story from Aaron seems to imply that in the investor category a unit would have to change classification to commercial. Would we then be able to fight an airbnb at neighborhood meetings?

    Our neighborhood is being taken advantage of. Even our local realtors are in on the gold rush.

  5. This is a start. Currently there is no way to quantify the issue, since there is currently no registration system in place. There will be one now. Going forward the City is hoping to have its hands on numbers, density and locations of these units. The fees are superfluous, the registration is the real key.

    What will be more interesting are the penalties for failure to register and pay the fees. I know one place that does something similar to this and many of the absentee landlords live in another state. They claim complete and total ignorance of local laws. Having failure to register penalties that get their attention will be key to success. They should also post a certificate indicating they are current on their registration.

    What you can do is make sure that these units in your building comply with new regulation. Report any one who fails to comply.

  6. And Condominium Associations need to be vigilant as to what they want to allow and not allow in their buildings, and if necessary, modify their rules to accommodate this phenomenon. This needs to be highlighted as a major tool to manage excess in this short-term rental area.

    • I spoke with code enforcement and condo bylaws are the most effective tool. So far code enforcement attempts have failed in court. If you check your bylaws you might see sections regarding rental provisions. You might see. a restriction for the minimum rental duration. This limits short term rentals. Trying to enforce code provisions meant for hotels fails the court test I was told.

  7. There is a company from NYC called “City Shares” who supposedly has leased 50 apartments in the North End alone. $ 500 is a joke. They get that for one weekend in one apartment. $500 per unit for these players is more like it.

  8. The 90 day limited is the magic number for the absentee landlords that run “dorm / frat houses ” in our neighborhood. The landlords, who have had a hand in the sky rocking rental market, can now trade one transient population for another. When the students leave For their summer break, the entire building can go airbnb until September. And I use to look forward to the tranquil summers.

  9. Looking at some of these ads, I can see the appeal of some of these places. One thing Boston lacks is reasonably priced hotel rooms that are clean. From the looks, Airbnb fills this void. If there were similarly priced hotels in the area, there might be fewer Airbnbs. Hotels aren’t feeling the pinch, since their rates only increase. Airbnb thrives in expensive markets, it fills the void for people with moderate incomes who can afford to take vacations.

    The mayor’s plan doesn’t address the real situation. Boston promotes tourism, but only for the wealthy. Regardless of what the do at City Hall, the other 99% will try out Airbnb.

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