Six months since taking the helm as Commissioner of Boston’s Inspectional Services Department (ISD), Dion Irish intends to make an impact on several key initiatives. “ISD is like a giant ship and we need to maneuver to address new challenges,” said Irish, speaking at the November meeting of the North End / Waterfront Residents’ Association (NEWRA).
At the top of the list is the enforcement of the new regulations governing short-term rentals (i.e., Airbnb). 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.
The city ordinance went into effect on January 1st, but has been in a grace, warning period through September 2019. Starting December 1st, Airbnb will only accept short-term rental listings that have a valid Boston registration number, part of a recent legal settlement with the city. ISD intends to strike similar agreements with the other short-term rental companies (i.e., VRBO) operating in the city.
The city now requires all short-term rental units to apply and register with the city. The ISD Commissioner shared some notable statistics so far regarding short-term rentals in Ward 3 which covers the North End, Waterfront, West End, Financial District, Beacon Hill, Downtown, Bulfinch Triangle, South End, Chinatown and the Leather District.
ISD has denied 71 applications out of 139 applications to date in Ward 3. The downtown neighborhoods have filed the most complaints in the city this year and ISD has issued 41 fines in the ward.
After an August 2019 settlement with the city, Airbnb will only accept short-term rental listings that have a valid Boston registry number starting December 1st. The city has added two full-time employees within ISD to oversee the short-term rental compliance. Officials are also using an outside data agency to track STRs in the city.
Since October, 378 fines have been issued throughout the city totaling $78,000. Every 30 days, the city intends to follow up on fined units to see if they are complying with the ordinance or have removed their listed units. Commissioner Irish said the Mayor is committed to filing lawsuits against property owners that refuse to comply.
For its part, Airbnb issued a statement on the upcoming implementation date for short-term rentals in Boston.
“We have been working hard to educate our hosts about their obligations under the Boston STR Ordinance through a variety of means, including paid advertisements on social media, emails, our Help Center, and notifications sent through our platform. We have been able to reach each one of our hosts in this way. Last year, Boston Airbnb hosts have earned a collective $105M, which they then used to pay their taxes, afford their mortgages, save for retirement, repay student loans, and contribute in general to the local economy. In the year ending July 1, 2019, more than 460,000 guests in Boston enjoyed affordable nightly rates and overwhelmingly positive stays–our average guest rating in Boston is 4.7 stars. Considering that Boston has among the highest hotel rates in the United States, providing economical and comfortable options through home sharing makes the City accessible to travelers of all incomes.”
In response to a question at the NEWRA meeting, the commissioner said the city is aware that several STR aggregators are looking to classify their units as “executive suites,” a potential loophole in the system for non-owner occupied buildings. ISD will work with the zoning board to identify such abuse.
On the State level, December 1st is also an important date where additional registration, taxation and insurance regulations go into effect.
Complaints regarding short-term rental units can be filed through the 311 app and there will shortly be a new category within the app specifically for STR issues.