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City councilors consider bill to regulate short-term rentals in Boston

There soon might be restrictions and regulations on how people can rent out accommodations on sites like Airbnb in Boston.

A City Council hearing Tuesday morning revolved around an ordinance that would regulate short-term residential rentals in the city.

The Committee on Government Operations held the hearing, which was led by Councilor Michael Flaherty, the chair of the committee, attracted more than 200 attendees. The ordinance was sponsored by Mayor Martin Walsh, who referred it to the committee on Jan. 24. City councilors who are not on the committee were present to ask questions to the sponsors of the ordinances.

Sheila Dillon, the chief of housing and the director of neighborhood development for Boston, began the hearing by providing an overview of why she, William Christopher, the Inspectional Services Department commissioner and City Policy Analyst and Special Projects Manager Christopher English, proposed the ordinance.

“Our historic housing shortage has caused our rents and sales prices to rise,” Dillon said. “We cannot, however, win the war on our housing shortage if Boston housing units are being taken off the market and used for short-term accommodations.”

Dillon said in order to moderate rent increases, the city needs to secure a larger vacancy rate. Until more units are available, rents will continue to rise, she said.

The negative effects of short-term rentals likely disproportionately harm families and Boston residents, Andrea Campbell, District 4 city councilor, said during the hearing.

“Perhaps the unintended consequence is that folks who want to do short-term rentals, let’s say in the summertime, would rent the rest of the year to students,” Campbell said. “Then that’s not really solving the issue in terms of putting more … [units] on the market for families and for residents.”

Christine O’Donnell, the compliance director and staff counsel for the City Council, wrote in an email that certain regulations and fees would accompany the city’s authorization of short-term rentals.  

“The ordinance would also regulate short-term rentals by requiring registration, fees and caps on certain types of short-term rentals depending upon classification as defined in the proposed ordinance,” O’Donnell wrote before the meeting.

Following the hearing, both administration representatives and members of the public offered testimony.

Maria Montrond, 52, of Dorchester, came forward and said she was deeply concerned for Airbnb homeowners. She said her Airbnb business, along with many other local occupied-unit owners, would suffer from the regulations outlined in the ordinance.

According to O’Donnell, the City Council has several options it can make in regard to the ordinance: approve it in an amended version, reject it, or reject without prejudice, which would allow the mayor to re-file the ordinance next year. They have until Mar. 26 to act upon the proposal at one of their weekly meetings.

Tracy Novicki, 51, of South Boston, and member of the UNITE HERE Local 26 union, said she was concerned about affordable housing in Boston, especially when thinking about small homeowners and investors.

“We’re very concerned about the affordable housing and what’s going on in Boston right now,” Novicki said after the hearing. “I’m looking for them to separate the bill from small homeowners’ Airbnbs to big investors’ [Airbnbs].”

Stacy Travers, 36, of Dorchester, said she opposes the regulations. As an Airbnb host, she said while she fully supports owner-occupied Airbnb units and feels that there should be no restrictions on them, these types of units are necessary because they allow low-income students and families a means of residence.

“I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of guests, and the majority of them are college students who want to come to Boston but can’t afford the hotels,” Travers said. “They wouldn’t be able to travel otherwise.”

Brian Sergenian, 52, of the North End, said that investor-owned Airbnbs would be detrimental to Boston’s housing issue.

“It’s bad for the community, it’s bad for property value, it’s bad for housing,” Sergenian said.


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