Short-Term Rental Hosts Applaud New Ordinance from City Council

Joe Bianco has been one of the most popular short-term (Airbnb) hosts in Charlestown for quite some time at his Green Street home.

Many tourists rent a unit from him, and many from the Town put up friends and relatives in his home.

He’s been doing it for years, and also for many years, he’s been involved in the fight to regulate the short-term rental industry – something he got into to help save the family home as property taxes and property values surged in Charlestown.

This week, he said he is pretty comfortable with the new regulations, despite the fact that they took a long time.

“It seems like it took so long to come up with this legislation,” he said. “I pretty much am not affected, other than the $200 licensing fee. The investor types are getting spanked, and I understand the problems they cause. Whether this levels the playing field, time will tell. I wonder how it’s going to be regulated.”

The Boston City Council voted on June 13 to adopt Mayor Martin Walsh’s amended short-term rental ordinance by a vote of 11-2, eliminating the controversial investor units that have been described as “de facto hotels,” but also giving some new leeway to owner-occupants to rent out their units for short-term platforms.

“We have eliminated the investor units that are putting pressure on our housing market and we’re also allowing this industry to operate and grow,” said Councilor Michael Flaherty, who chaired the committee that looked at the new effort. “Next year will be a learning experience. The members of the City Council can come back and revisit any part of this if we need to. Not everyone is going to be completely pleased, but I believe we’ve found the middle ground.”

Mayor Martin Walsh introduced his second effort earlier in the year, and the most important part of that ordinance – which was preserved June 13 – was eliminating the investor short-term rentals. Those units were described as putting pressure on the housing stock due to anecdotes about corporations and entities buying up apartment buildings and evicting the tenants to provide short-term rentals for tourists and visitors.

This was particularly a problem in the downtown neighborhoods such as Charlestown, Chinatown, the South End, Back Bay and South Boston.

With those eliminated, the discussion shifted to what to allow, and the consensus was to allow owner-occupants to rent out empty bedrooms in their own units for short-term up to 365 days a year, and also to be able to rent out a short-term adjacent unit for 365 days per year as well.

That was the new twist, and it was controversial because many believe that the new ordinance will protect the downtown neighborhoods, but transfer the problem to two-families and three-family homes in the outer neighborhoods.

Councilor Matt O’Malley of Jamaica Plain introduced an amendment that would have capped the adjacent unit at 120 days, but it was shot down on a 6-7 vote.

“I am a fan of the game Jenga,” he said. “I reference that because I think it’s analogous to crafting legislation; if you pull the wrong block, it all collapses. I think this new draft is in jeopardy of pulling the wrong block and making this all collapse. I say that because we are removing the 120-day cap and allowing the 365 days.”

Councilor Michelle Wu reversed her previous thinking on the matter, which was to allow the 365 day provision. She said corporations and companies are moving faster than government to upend the protections.

“I am going to be voting to err on the side of the more restrictive legislation,” she said.

Those voting for the 120-day cap on adjacent units were Councilors AnnissaEssaibi-George, O’Malley, Ayanna Pressley, Wu and Josh Zakim. Councilor Ed Flynn initially voted against the cap, but later changed his vote – making it a 6-7 vote.

The reaction from Airbnb over the new regulation was one of disappointment.

“For two years Airbnb and our Boston hosts have worked closely with the Mayor and members of the City Council to share helpful data and collaborate on fair home sharing policy,” read their statement Wednesday afternoon. “Today’s disappointing vote is proof that our community’s feedback and concerns were not heard. 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. We’re hopeful there will be an ongoing discussion on these topics so that our community can continue to fight for their ability to share their homes and make ends meet.”

On the flip side, the Massachusetts Lodging Association CEO Paul Sacco said the new ordinance showed true leadership.

“Today, Mayor Walsh and the Boston City Council demonstrated true leadership by acting to protect Boston from exploitation at the hands of wealthy, out-of-town interests who have been buying up thousands of housing units in order to turn them into illegal hotels,” he said. “Today’s action preserves the rights of real home-sharers while reining in the bad actors who are contributing to Boston’s skyrocketing housing costs and wreaking havoc on many of our neighborhoods.”

Many observers pointed out, however, that the next step will be in the State Legislature where frameworks for taxing short-term rentals is still lingering – as well as regulations for health, safety and non-discrimination rules. A bill discussing just that has been in a Conference Committee since April, where the taxing system has been a point of contention.

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