A conflicted city council to begin looking at how to regulate Airbnb

The Boston City Council today approved looking into how to regulate rental services like Airbnb from laying waste to neighborhoods and harming local hotels and workers while also protecting poor homeowners who increasingly rely on the services to make ends meet and stay in the city.

At its regular meeting today, councilors took different positions of the impacts of the rental services.

In East Boston, Charlestown and the North End, City Councilor Sal LaMattina said, investors are buying up units right and left and turning them into permanent "virtual hotel rooms," locking out poor and middle-class residents.

He said there are now 270 units in his district listed on Airbnb, charging between $150 and $270 a night. "How can working families afford that?" he asked, adding that the transient nature of Airbnb rental units helps breakdown the connections between neighbors that make neighborhoods work.

And the online services has an unfair advantage over local hotels, he said. "You don't have to get an inspection, not from ISD, not from the Fire Department, because there are no regulations in place."

In Hyde Park, Roslindale and Mattapan, Councilor Tim McCarthy said, residents with sheds and detached garages are gutting them and turning them into Airbnb rentals, leading to residents wondering about the strange people now walking around their neighborhoods.

But in Roxbury and South Boston, poor homeowners and the elderly with rapidly rising property taxes are increasingly relying on Airbnb and its competitors to stay in Boston, councilors Tito Jackson (Roxbury) and Bill Linehan (South Boston) said.

Jackson said that had Airbnb been around during the 2008 recession, fewer people in areas such as Dorchester and Roxbury might have lost their homes to foreclosure, because the Airbnb income might have been enough to tide them over.

Linehan said some of his senior constituents have come to rely on Airbnb renters as a way of staving off the isolation they might otherwise feel as their families move out.

Jackson said Boston should do everything it can to encourage the young tech-savvy types who are inventing the future - and he noted that Airbnb co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk went to Boston Latin Academy.

"We should proceed with utter caution," he said.

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Exemption

Does running a casual hotel through air bnb take away your residential exemption?

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You don't need regulations until there is a problem

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This is one of those things that, in small doses is fine and good for the city. Someone renting out a spare room or their whole place while they are out of town is perfectly OK. If people are renting out something the majority of the time, then they should be subject to rules. What constitutes "the majority" and what are those rules? These are the things that I think the council has a legitimate mandate to look into. I just hope they take a nuanced approach and not a sledgehammer.

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There is a problem

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The cost of housing here is inaccessible to most people.

And people who do manage to get a down payment on a mortgage find that the residential properties are snapped up by investors from China and elsewhere.

Stop the illegal dotcom-middleman hotels, send that business back to actual hotels, and leave the residential properties for actual residents.

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hmm

leave the residential properties for actual residents

yeah lets start issuing free unicorns when people register to vote too. its about as likely and about as sane an idea

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The cities have duty to the citizens of the city

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Not to those of China. Nor those of New York. Nor those of Florida.

Tax the hell out of Chinese investors who are moving money out of their country, and using our very limited real estate options to store it.

There will be rentals after the foreign investors decide to sell, but the landlords will be local. And prices will stop shooting up quite so fast.

I would vote for the politician who does this.

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There is already a problem.

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If people are renting out something the majority of the time, then they should be subject to rules

That is what is happening. There is a problem now, which means that yes, it is time for regulations. Really though, there is already a set of regulations covering hotels - we just need to close the loopholes currently being exploited to operate a hotel while pretending to be a residence.

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There are no loopholes

There are no loopholes. People renting out hotel rooms without passing a hotel safety inspection, collecting and paying occupancy taxes, etc. are not "exploiting a loophole," they are flagrantly violating the law.

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I'm glad we got to hear about the seniors

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I mean, what's really important to the discussion is whether a few senior citizens have someone to talk to because AirBnB exists. That's totally an appropriate and in-scale response to the issue at hand.

Nobody mentioned potential roach/bedbug spreading? The total lack of regulations to prevent a squatter from using AirBnB to con and steal someone's space? The lack of taxation to balance out all the additional costs of having one-room hotels everywhere? The lack of ANY enforcement of our zoning laws that should be preventing people from running businesses out of their homes like this?

No, instead we get "think about the seniors" and "but what if we make Mark Zuckerberg Jr. move away" and "random people walk through their neighborhood" (hello, you live in a city).

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yea good point

they should really make squatting and inviting people over to somebody elses home illegal

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Your argument doesn't make

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Your argument doesn't make any sense. They are suggesting that they need to continue to charge people.

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Regulation?

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Don't you mean Permits and Licenses accompanied by fees. Hey City Council keep your hand out of the cookie jar.

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AirBNB guests treat your building like shit.

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We had a guy buy a unit in our building and immediately start renting it nightly on AirBNB. For 9 months we had problems with trash overflowing, parties after midnight on weeknights, people coming and going with luggage at all hours of the night, the front door to the building being left ajar numerous times, "guests" smoking in the stairwell, and "guests" smoking pot in front of the building.

Finally we convinced the new owner that "residential purposes" meant finding a long-term tenant. And all those issues went away overnight.

Like Uber was, AirBNB was a good idea for the Average Joe to make a little extra money from underutilized assets. But the "few bad apples" who are exploiting the system turn out to be 99% of the renters on the platform.

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Not so sure

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But the "few bad apples" who are exploiting the system turn out to be 99% of the renters on the platform.

I think this is really an exaggeration, but like you I have no data to prove it one way or the other.

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That was never the idea

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The idea with these "sharing economy" dotcoms is to make themselves the middleman, while pretending they're about grassroots "sharing", and avoiding the regulations that everyone else plays by.

"Oh sure! Uber is about you intending to drive somewhere, and, hey, it would only be environmentally responsible for you to carpool your extra seat, and they toss you a few bucks for gas, and this is so warm-fuzzy sharing wonderful, I think I'm going to explode into rainbows! " No, it is about a billion-dollar company that is valued that way because they are getting away with cheating, and then they'll have enough investor money to buy the legislation they want, rather than being thrown in jail and have the money taken away.

It's a great scam. They are liars and exploiters and cheaters.

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Have trouble with abstraction?

Why the hell are you whining about Uber in this topic?

Because Uber and AirBnB are pretty much exactly the same thing on so many social / economic / legal / regulatory fronts?

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I use this service when i go

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I use this service when i go out of town and can assure you your anecdotal evidence does not equate to 99.9% of the AirBnB users being "bad apples".

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Varying experiences

I am in a 4 unit building and 1 unit is AirBNB like. I am less than thrilled to have strangers walking up and down the stairs, but mostly they are good guests. Occasionally they do stupid things with trash or use the common laundry a lot more than other residents, but those are at the level of annoying. And I've had a few (less than 3 I think) things go missing from the common area in the basement (it is a 4 unit building and there should be some trust - something we had before the nightly rentals) and the owner had to kick out guests once for pot smoking and general party making.

Just not the same level of problems you describe.

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why didn't you immediately

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why didn't you immediately change your condo docs to make what they were doing not allowed?

Frankly, I'm surprised it wasn't already not allowed. All of the condo associations I've been involved in have banned leases under 6 months.

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Changing condo docs

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We put in a prohibition against AirBNB in our condo rules and regulations, but it's been a struggle. It would be helpful to have city regulations that support resident owners and renters who want to prevent AirBNB in their buildings.

Even if an owner "needs money" it's unfair to impose the risk and inconvenience of AirBNB on the other residents of the building. ("Hey I need some money, so how about if I turn the building into a hotel for my own profit? Cool! Thanks! Let me know if you see any bedbugs or anything.")

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The city of Boston does not

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The city of Boston does not have any rights to tell a home owner who they can or cannot rent their apartments to.Airline employees are renting all around near the airport different employees from different cities walk up and down Bremen street Bennington street practically all over East Boston they are paying a going rate of $75 to $150 a night at some of these apartments that are airbnbs , the owners are making 6 figures. Renting a room at a nearby hotel doesn't come cheap, city taxes , hotel fees and all the bullshit that people pay to rent a room at any hotel around Boston is expensive.

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Airline crews were always

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Airline crews were always around eastie before airbnb

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Seeing an Airline employee

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Seeing an Airline employee walking and wheeling their suitcase from Airport station to Marion street to Saratoga street has been the norm in Eastie , it has been going on for at least 10 years way before Airbnb became public, Loads of Eastie apartment building owners have taken notice of this money making machine and they have joined in . The city of Boston thinks it's losing revenue, meanwhile Boston is building more hotels in record numbers, City of Boston would probably raise property taxes for those who use Airbnb , I see these airline employees use local livery companies to take them too and from their destinations that's been the case on my street. So having Airbnb does stimulate the local economy,

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This is not true

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The city actually does get to regulate what happens in the city. Shocking, I know.

For example, you can't rent an apartment to 6 people? Mind blown yet?

'all the bullshit' pays for things like inspectional services, police, fire departments, etc... Kind of the difference between living here and say, Somalia.

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So what?

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So because airlines can't find a way to be both profitable and pay their staff enough to handle one-night layovers in Boston, we can't have rules on how residential zones are residential zones and not commercial hotel spaces?

That explanation for keeping AirBnB around in its current incarnation is so tortured, an inmate at Gitmo just used his one phone call to ask if you need to borrow his lawyer for a while.

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If a home owner decided to

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If a home owner decided to serve food for a price but only 1 or 2 days a week, and only lunch and dinner, what if any regulations should the home owner be made to follow?

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Of course they do

The city of Boston does not have any rights to tell a home owner who they can or cannot rent their apartments to

The city has every right to tell you you can't run a hotel unless you meet the requirements of a hotel, which include safety inspections, etc.

And the city has every right to tell you you can't rent out an apartment if your house is zoned, assessed, taxed, and inspected as a single family house.

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Not just AirBnB

Check out Hotels.com. You will see more and more upscale apartments in rental buildings like the Triangle Trilogy in the Fenway offered as hotel rooms. Not sure how that's legal, but these are big developers who presumably know what they can get away with.

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That's why there needs to be

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That's why there needs to be need regulations and to not just accept whatever developers want to build.

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Back in the '90s I lived in a

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Back in the '90s I lived in a big house in JP that had extra bedrooms and I investigated with City Hall what I needed to do to be able to rent them out. I didn't do it since you needed to be licensed, inspected, and actually operate as a business. Why are people allowed to randomly rent rooms now? Just because there's a web site that promotes and facilitates illegal activity doesn't make it legal.

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We need a whole new city

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We need a whole new city council and a new mayor! I am so disappointed in these overpaid politicians!

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How could it be accomplished?

We need a whole new city council and a new mayor! I am so disappointed in these overpaid politicians!

If only there were some process by which the people of the city could decide who they wanted as mayor and who they wanted on the city council.....

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Lots of all or nothing here. Maybe find the middle?

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Here's my view as the occasional Air BnB user in other places.

1. Recognize that a resident who rents his home on Air BnB every once in a long while is actually helping that resident to deal with the high cost of housing and is, from the perspective of neighbors, indistinguishable from the resident letting friends stay at his pad while he is out of town.
2. Recognize that an owner/lessor who rents his home on Air BnB all the time is reducing available housing stock and pushing up the cost of housing, and that the needs and expectations of tourists are different than residents; the more often that unit is rented as temporary lodging, the more often the neighbors have to deal with annoyances ranging from very minor to far more anti-social.

So, here's my proposal:
1. All Air BnB rentals have to pay the same hotel-type taxes that hotel rooms pay. Air BnB should collect it, and Air BnB (not the homeowner) should pay it.
2. Air BnB should report the income residents earn to the state government. If you're deriving income from Air BnB, you should be reporting it.
3. Differentiate between the occasional and the full-time Air BnBs. How? Limit the number of days per year you can Air BnB. Maybe 91? That's three months, which allows for summer rentals. I don't know what the right mix is, but choose a number of days within a calendar year and differentiate.
4. You a full-time Air BnB? Cool. You don't get a residential tax exemption. You don't get to use the address to get a residential parking permit. You get inspections and all other expectations of a bed and breakfast. I do think that like day cares, Air BnBs
5. You a part-time Air BnB? Cool. Pay your income taxes on the earnings, Air BnB remits taxes from the hotel side.

But what about zoning? I think you look to existing zoning in the community. There isn't much, but some zoning differentiates between homestays and B and B Inns. The former: 3 or fewer rooms, fewer than 50% of the structure dedicated to rooming (minus kitchen), can't serve any meals other than breakfast, minimal outdoor indication or change to structure, homeowner lives there. The latter: 4+ rooms, possibly built to purpose, possibly more than 50% dedicated to the rooming areas, owner may or may not live there. In general, part time Air BnBers look like homestays, and are reasonable in any zoning district that allows people sleeping there (e.g. maybe not industrial, but certainly commercial, mixed use, and residential). The problem becomes when you've got 4+ people doing Air BnB in the same building at the same time. To the extent that zoning prevents B and B Inns, a community could force Air BnB to prevent the booking of a fourth Air BnB room in the same building at the same time.

There's plenty of room to get this right. Part-time Air BnBs are a really logical thing -- it makes use of existing infrastructure rather than requiring new consumption, it helps existing residents handle the high cost of housing, it's an example of government and private industry working in ways that benefit residents. Full-time Air BnBs need to be treated like businesses, but that doesn't mean overburdensome regulations -- it means treat them like their peers operating lodging houses, B and Bs, or hotels, as appropriate.

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One thing I've not seen discussed

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What if you don't own the property? I went to find out how many AirBnB options were near my house, and I found one on my street. I know the woman who owns the house, and she rents it as a proper landlord to two women, who are now renting the extra room in it on AirBnB.

I don't think it's my business to tell the owner about it, but I do worry that something will happen and she'll be stuck with liability. Is there any proposal to at least ensure the people who are renting the space own the space or own liability for it?

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I feel like most standard

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I feel like most standard leases prohibit subleasing without the landlord's permission, which SHOULD cover them in the case of a renter putting it on airbnb (which is just a super short term sublease)

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