Boston cracks down on investor-owned short term rentals

BOSTON (AP) — The Boston City Council on Wednesday passed regulations aimed at cracking down on investors who buy housing units to list on short-term rental platforms like Airbnb.

The regulations, first proposed by Democratic Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, would ban investors from renting apartments by the night.

The regulations, which passed on an 11-2 vote, would still let people rent a room in their home or a spare unit provided they own and live in the property, with some restrictions.

Walsh said he looks forward to signing the regulations, saying his goal "has always been to responsibly incorporate the growth of the home-share industry into our work to create affordable housing for all by striking a fair balance between preserving housing while still allowing Bostonians to benefit from this new industry."

Backers of the regulations said investors who buy up homes and condos to turn them into de-facto hotel rooms are making the city's tight housing market even more unaffordable.

Airbnb said the regulations create "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."

The company said it tried working with Walsh and the council for two years, adding "today's disappointing vote is proof that our community's feedback and concerns were not heard."

The Massachusetts Lodging Association, which represents the hotel and motel industry, welcomed the regulations saying they will help "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."

The regulations would allow owner-occupants to list their own unit, a part of their unit, or an adjacent unit in their building; prohibit ownership or operation of short-term rental units by outside investors; create a public registry of short-term rentals; and give investor-owned units a grace period to fulfill existing leases as their business model is phased out.

The regulations would take effect Jan. 1.

In neighboring Cambridge, the city council last year also approved new regulations requiring people offering short-term rentals to live in the same building.

State lawmakers have also waded into the issue of online short term rental platforms.

The Massachusetts House and Senate agree the platforms should be regulated and taxed. What they don't agree on is how.

The House calls for a multi-tiered system for taxing short-term rentals, while the Senate wants to simply impose the state's existing 5.7 percent lodging tax on those transactions. House and Senate negotiators are seeking a compromise.