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For sale: income-generating $1.6 million home in Rox.

Buyer beware: new short-term rental ordinance could limit profitability

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
For sale: income-generating $1.6 million home in Rox.
This three family on Georgia Street has nine bedrooms and eight bathrooms. Banner photo

A Roxbury woman who has listed her 74 Georgia Street three-family house for $1.6 million is marketing the building as an income-generating machine that can pull in as much as $10,000 a month.

But the short-term rentals she has relied on in the nine-bedroom, eight-bathroom building may be harder to come by this year, as the city cracks down on landlords who operate buildings as de facto hotels without proper licensing.

Aihua Harris lives in one unit of the three-story Victorian-era wood frame house in the Grove Hall section of Roxbury and rents out two of the floors: one for $2,295 a week and the other for $1,895 a week. She told the Banner she has been offering short-term rentals for the last 15 years to clients from across the United States, Europe and Asia.

Her clients include film production crews, families visiting Boston for medical services and business clients.

“They rent for three, four or five months,” she said.

But a new ordinance passed by the City Council and signed into law by Mayor Martin Walsh limits short-term rentals to one owner-adjacent unit for just 120 nights per year. Renting two owner-adjacent units or operating a building for short-term rentals as an absentee landlord is prohibited under the new law.

The new ordinance came in response to complaints from neighborhood residents and housing advocates that many landlords are relying solely on short-term rentals for income, driving up housing costs and putting a dent in the city’s available rental housing stock.

Some residents in neighborhoods where the Airbnb platform is popular complain about the lack of stability stemming from the coming and going of short-term renters. Georgia Street has a mixture of subsidized apartment buildings, owner-occupied single-families and, next door to Harris’ building, a veterans’ group home. Neighbors interviewed there said they didn’t know 74 was used for short-term rentals.

It may not be for much longer. City Councilor Kim Janey noted that owners seeking more flexibility in renting out rooms or apartments must now procure licenses.

“You could apply for a license as a bed-and-breakfast,” she said.

Harris’s three-family home on Georgia Street is one of many large Victorian buildings in Roxbury being used for commercial purposes. In recent years there has been a proliferation of group care homes and sober houses opening in the neighborhood. Operators are often drawn to the relatively low cost for the buildings in Roxbury.

Harris bought 74 Georgia Street for $355,000 in 2003. She says she’s invested substantially in the property to make it suitable for short-term rentals, adding in bathrooms.

“I’ve spent $1 million,” she said.

She first listed the building for sale in April of 2016, asking $1,699,000. While Trulia lists her property’s selling price at $1,499,000, she insisted she will not go below $1.6 million.

“If it doesn’t sell,” she said, “I’ll remove the listing.”

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