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Boston City Council Debates Short-Term Rental Regulations

No obvious compromises were made when Boston’s City Council held a working session on Monday regarding the Mayor’s revised ordinance that regulates short-term rentals in the City of Boston. A vote could come in the coming weeks, yet the Council remains split in opinion with councilors representing downtown largely in favor while those from outlying districts opposed.

A slim edge appears in favor of the Mayor’s amended guidelines that would effectively ban short-term rentals from non-owner occupied buildings, eliminating investor units and absentee Airbnb landlords.

Councilors looking out for the downtown neighborhoods (North End, Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Chinatown) including Lydia Edwards, Ed Flynn and Michelle Wu, strongly support the new ordinance that would limit short-term rentals to owner-occupied buildings.

City officials believe that as many as 2,000 apartments, now being used for short-term rentals, could come back on the regular rental market if the amended ordinance is passed. Proponents of the regulations contend the housing stock has been compromised by the tourist stay websites, such as Airbnb.

One criticism of the proposed ordinance are the terms of enforcement. A common outcry by some members of the council was who the fictional people are that are going to log the operators who rent their units short-term, and enforce the stipulations of the ordinance. This would be the responsibility of Boston Inspectional Services Department (ISD) and strain on the ISD could be difficult. However, head of ISD William Christopher testified that the regulations would move the city’s housing environment in a “good direction.”

From another angle, Councilor Frank Baker, who oversees Boston’s 3rd district (Dorchester, parts of South Boston and South End) does not support the ordinance, believing the government is overreaching. “It [the ordinance] came back more restrictive. It was late filed. And now it looks like you’re trying to jam this thing in for a vote on Wednesday,” said the councilman. Baker represents some on the council from the outlying neighborhoods that believe short-term rentals will help some residents earn money to stay in their homes.

Allowance in the proposed ordinance is provided for owners living in a multi-unit building for short-term rentals, up to 120 days per year. Otherwise, “ad hoc hotels” in investor owned buildings would need to have their properties re-zoned as “commercial” (from residential) in order to use short term rentals under the proposed guidelines.

Councilors in the downtown neighborhoods believe they have a slim majority in favor of the regulations. But, there are at least three undecided votes by councilors who were mostly silent at Monday’s session. Councilor Michael Flaherty heads the working committee.

Update May 23, 2018: The Boston City Council has been postponed its vote on the ordinance for at least two weeks.

5 Replies to “Boston City Council Debates Short-Term Rental Regulations

  1. Hi,
    There is a big mistake, Councilor Frank Baker represents the South End and South Boston. The South End is in trouble.
    He thinks Airbnb is a great business model. He wants to sell out our neighborhoods to investors for a very cheap price tag. He will vote NO. He made it clear that money is more important than neighborhoods, than people and communities. I was there, I heard his statements. Next election, remember this.
    Lydia Edwards represents the East Boston area. She supports the ban on investor-owned short-term rentals. She will vote YES.

  2. Matt: Who are the “at least three” councilors who may be undecided? Are any of them at-large councilors? Are there any at-large councilors who oppose the proposed regulation?

    1. I wasn’t at the session (Ariel wrote the article) but at large councilor Flaherty has said he is undecided. Frankly, not sure of several who have been quiet, hence the “at least three …” because it’s likely more than that. Some councilors appear to be looking for amendments (i.e., Janey on the 120 days for multi-family units) which could sway their votes. Next chance for a vote is June 6th.

  3. The only Councilors who will vote YES for sure
    Lydia Edwards – East Boston
    Michelle Wu at large
    Ed Flynn – Chinatown
    Josh Zakim – BH, Back Bay, NorthEnd/Waterfront/Fenway

    It’s time for people to get involved! Illegal-hotels will destroy our neighborhoods.

    1. I believe Edwards represents East Boston, North End and Charlestown. The waterfront isn’t a distinct district.

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