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Short-Term Rental Regulations Passed by Boston City Council, Banning Airbnb Guests in Non-Owner Occupied Buildings

The Boston City Council voted 11-2 on Wednesday to regulate short-term rentals (i.e., AirBnb, Homeaway, VRBO, etc.), supporting a bill close to the Mayor Walsh’s amended guidelines.

The ordinance bans short-term rentals from non-owner occupied buildings, eliminating investor units and absentee Airbnb landlords. Owner-occupants may continue to list their own unit, a part of their unit or an adjacent whole unit in their building as a short-term rental for 365 days per year. One change from the recently debated version removes a 120 day restriction on homeowners in 2 and 3 family houses. Those owners will be able to rent nightly for as long as they wish.

Mayor Marty Walsh is expected to sign the ordinance shortly.

“I look forward to signing this legislation,” said Walsh, “And, I am committed to monitoring the impacts to ensure it serves its intended purpose in our neighborhoods.”

District 1 Councilor, Lydia Edwards, (North End, Charlestown, East Boston) has been a vocal advocate in favor of the regulations.

“This legislation balances the rights of homeowners to earn supplemental income with protections for housing stock under pressure from the investor-owned segment of the short-term rental industry,” said Councilor Edwards. “By preventing loss of traditional rental units to short-term rentals, the ordinance will supplement citywide efforts to preserve housing units and increase housing stock through new construction.”

The vast majority of the council supported the new measures other than opposing votes from Councilors Frank Baker (Dorchester) and Mark Ciommo (Allston, Brighton).

The bill also creates a public registry of short-term rental units. Exempt from the regulations are commercial hotels, bed and breakfasts and corporate housing. There will also be a grace period for non-owner occupied short-term rentals through September 2019.

Short-term rental companies have lobbied aggressively against the new regulations and spoke out against the council vote.

“The new ordinance unfortunately creates a system that violates the privacy of our hosts, and prevents Boston families from making much-needed extra income in one of the country’s most expensive cities,” said Airbnb. HomeAway/VRBO, owned by Expedia, also issued a strongly worded response saying the ordinance “will have dangerous consequences for Boston’s travel and tourism economy.”

Boston’s North End has been one of the hardest hit neighborhoods by short-term rentals. As of this writing, there are currently 185 North End rentals listed on Airbnb alone (link), primarily in investor owned units. In a recent investigation by the Alliance of Downtown Civic Associations and published by Commonwealth Magazine, one fake Airbnb host “Anthony” had over 40 listings in the North End, seeded by a local realtor to a New York agency.

10 Replies to “Short-Term Rental Regulations Passed by Boston City Council, Banning Airbnb Guests in Non-Owner Occupied Buildings

  1. There should be some consideration for investor owners who bought based upon laws current at the time and have mortgages. There is also a big difference in the “Anthony’s” and those who own one or two rentals. The city is going to be hurt by diminishing tourism, which will affect restaurants, shops and tourist sites. It seems the equitable solution would be to register units, regulate and tax them. Nashville, for instance, taxes short-term rentals at 9.25% to the state, 6% and $2.50 per night to the city as occupancy tax. They also inspect and regulate short-term rentals, which I do not see happening with the City of Boston. Those funds could be used to provide affordable housing or subsidies. To allow owners to rent short-term two additional units in the building in which they live also takes units off of the long- term rental market.

    1. To say tourism will decline is misguided. They’ll still come— there’s plenty of hotels in the city for them.

      For investors who bought buildings, tough luck. They probably made 5-8 years’ worth of rental income in one year anyways.

      A neighborhood requires neighbors.

    2. Janie – The STR ordinance allows owner occupied two and three family residences to rent only one unit at a time, either part or all of the owner’s residence, OR one whole adjacent unit. You are correct that this will permanently remove apartments from the long term market, which is precisely why the 120 day cap proposed by the Mayor should have also been included in the ordinance. Unfortunately, that ammendment was narrowly defeated by a 7 to 6 Council vote.

    3. You don’t deserve a break because you bought in a loophole and took advantage of the desirability of the neighborhood at the detriment to actual residents. You have until Sept 2019 to find lovely long term tenants.

    4. The State taxes and regulates short-term rentals. The new law allows municipalities to make additional regulation.

      Short-term rentals have not driven Boston’s tourism, but they have hurt the overall economy by removing available worker housing. As far as buying before the law, call it the investor risk factor. Boston was a little slow in imposing regulation and investors moved in to take advantage knowing that eventually Boston would regulate like other cities have already done. You can still flip the residence if you no longer want to be in this neighborhood. Most likely make a fat profit too. I guess it’s a question of your personal greed level.

  2. This is great news for the neighborhood. Thank you to Lydia Edwards for her support of this ordinance.

    1. Laura – I agree this is great news for the North End and other Downtown neighborhoods where there aren’t many two family and triple deckers. However, if Councilor Edwards really wanted “to preserve housing units” throughout the City, she would have voted with our At-Large Councilor Michelle Wu in support of a 120 day cap instead of casting the deciding vote that killed the ammendment.

      1. Councilor Edwards’ vote that eliminated the 120-day cap for a relatively limited number of units was meant to ensure that an otherwise strict ordinance would pass, and it did. Her vote shows no compromising of her aggressive stand for preserving housing units.

  3. I can’t wait to be able to report these illegal hotels and get actual neighbors back in the North End.

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