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Walsh files new regulations for Airbnb in Boston

Amended ordinance proposed to protect residents from investor activity

Karen Morales

Mayor Martin Walsh filed an amended ordinance last week for citywide guidelines and regulations on short-term rental units. The new rules would prohibit so-called “investor units” that have proliferated in neighborhoods such as the North End and Chinatown, where investors monopolize entire housing units and buildings for short-term Airbnb rentals.

Owner-occupied short-term rental units however, would still be permitted, although with requirements and fees.

“Thoughtful regulation of short-term rentals that balance our efforts to preserve housing affordability with the growing demand for short-term rentals is key to keeping our communities stable,” said Walsh in a press release. “Boston is a great place to live and visit, and we look forward to responsibly incorporating the growth of the home-share industry into our work to create affordable housing options for all.”

Permitted units would be classified under three categories: limited share unit, home share unit and owner-adjacent unit.

Both limited share and home share units allow residents to rent out rooms or whole units at their primary residence without limit, but with a $25 and $200 annual fee, respectively. 

An owner-adjacent unit refers to an owner-occupied two- or three-family building, in which the owner lists a secondary unit as a short-term rental for up to 120 nights per year. In addition, the owner is allowed to list a primary residence for an unlimited number of nights-per-year. There is a $200 annual fee for this type of unit.

It would also be required that each short-term rental unit operator provide notice to abutters within 30 days of approved registration.

Airbnb fights back

The new ordinance is the result of collaboration with the Boston City Council and conversations among residents and advocates, some of whom called for stricter regulations to prevent higher rent prices for residents.

City Councilors Michelle Wu and Lydia Edwards have been at the forefront of the proposed regulations, offering revisions to the initial proposal. Both councilors are in favor of the revised ordinance.

“This ordinance offers reasonable regulations of short-term rentals to close corporate loopholes, protect our housing stock, and stabilize neighborhoods,” said Wu in a press statement.

Edwards, who is chair of the council’s committee on housing and community development, said in a phone interview with the Banner that if the city allowed investors to rent out short-term units, “you are essentially allowing for an underground hotel economy.”

She continued, “If you’re running a hotel, call it a hotel. To us, that [investor units] was actually hurting Boston because they were evading hotel regulations.”

After the initial ordinance was filed, Airbnb responded in April by emailing and calling customers and asking them to contact Walsh and the city council to protest the proposed regulations.

However, in those communications, Airbnb claimed that Wu had proposed implementing a 30-day cap on Airbnb units and prohibiting renters from sharing their homes.

Required cooperation

Wu responded to Airbnb on her official twitter account, “Not sure where you’re getting 30-day cap, but spreading fake news doesn’t bode well for credibility that you’ll be a partner to the city as we work to address the housing crisis.”

“That’s why we chose to be conservative in this version, because of what we’re seeing with Airbnb spreading propaganda about this process,” said Edwards. “This is an opportunity for the company to demonstrate whether they are willing to negotiate with the City of Boston.”

According to the new ordinance, booking platforms will be required to provide the city with monthly data on short-term rental listings such as location and occupancy numbers.