Walsh signs short-term rental limits passed by city council

The Boston City Council voted 11 to 2 in favor of regulating short-term rental services like Airbnb and HomeAway, an ordinance that Mayor Martin Walsh signed into effect on June 15.

In the citywide ordinance, which will go into effect Jan. 1, 2019, property owners will no longer be permitted to list units for short-term rental in a building they do not occupy. This is intended to address the problem of “investor units” and “prevent operators from monopolizing Boston's housing market with short-term rentals,” according to a mayor’s office release.

Occupants in leased units can no longer market their apartments as short-term rentals under the new rules. Only owners registered with the city will be able to put units on the short-term rental sites.

Three different tiers are applied to owner-occupied short-term rentals, with fees associated with each. If an owner is renting out a private bedrooms or shared space in their primary residence, they pay a $25 annual fee. Entire unit rentals come with a $200 annual fee. Those can be either the primary unit where an owner lives for at least nine months of the year, or a secondary unit inside an owner-occupied two- or three-family home.

Short-term rental sites and their users tend to tout their benefit as an additional source of income for homeowners and renters.

Councillors, the mayor, and housing advocates point to an increasing housing shortage and concerns that investor owners could sap needed units from the city by running makeshift hotels. Hotels and traditional bed and breakfasts argue that short-term rentals should be subject to similar lodging regulations.

Councillors amended Walsh’s proposal in a few ways, though they kept the investor unit ban. They rejected, by an 7 to 6 vote, a component that would cap people in two- and three-family homes to renting out their unit for up to 120 days a year.

Under the version passed, the rentals can be for all 365 days.

The ordinance also boosted the reporting requirements if Walsh’s initial proposal.

Every six months, rather than annually, booking platforms will be required to provide the City with specific monthly data detailing the location and occupancy numbers for the rental locations.

A sunset period is built into in the legislation. Current lease holders operating short-term rentals can still operate Airbnbs normally until Sept. 1, 2019 or until the lease expires, whichever comes first.

Two councillors voted against the final ordinance on Wednesday: Mark Ciommo and Frank Baker.

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