City of Boston, Airbnb reach agreement to strengthen short-term rental registry, remove illegal units

Airbnb to assist with Boston's rental registry, remove illegal units from their listings

BOSTON - Thursday. August 29, 2019 - Mayor Martin J. Walsh today announced the City of Boston has agreed to a settlement agreement with Airbnb, establishing Airbnb's responsibilities under the City of Boston's short-term rental ordinance. Under this agreement, Airbnb will help facilitate the widespread adoption of Boston's short-term rental registration system, and will remove listings for illegal short-term rentals from its website. This settlement agreement furthers Mayor Walsh's work to create and preserve affordable housing in Boston, prioritizing affordable homes for all residents. 

"My goal in regulating short-term rentals 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 and allowing Bostonians to benefit from this new industry," said Mayor Walsh. "I'm pleased we were able to reach a settlement with Airbnb, and continue our important work ensuring that Boston remains a home for all residents." 

Under the terms of the agreement, Boston will continue to require owners to register their units, and continue the City's regulations about which units are eligible to be used as short-term rentals. On September 1, 2019, Airbnb's website will add a function to allow hosts to enter and display their required City-formatted registration number. By December 1, 2019, all listings will be required to display a City-formatted registration number, or the listings will be removed. Airbnb will inform users of the City's short-term rental standards, and work with users  to ensure their listings are registered with the City of Boston.

In addition, Airbnb will also share key data with the City of Boston, including the listing's unique ID/URL, submitted registration number, unique host ID, listing information, and listing zip code. 

Finally, under the settlement agreement, the City of Boston will have the power to notify Airbnb of any listing the City believes is ineligible under Boston's short-term rental ordinance. Unless the host complies with Boston's short-term rental registration process in thirty days, Airbnb will remove the listing from its platform. Pursuant to this agreement, the City of Boston will contact other short-term rental companies to seek to enter agreements with the same standards of operation.

The City of Boston's short-term rental regulations allow for the growth of Boston's home-sharing industry, while including deterrents to prevent operators from monopolizing Boston's housing market with short-term rentals. In addition, the regulations provide a standardized framework for regulating these units that meets the needs of the evolving industry, provides protections for occupants, and minimizes the impact on surrounding neighbors of these units. These regulations only apply to property owners registered with the City to operate a short-term rental in their unit. Non-owner occupants are not permitted to operate short-term rentals in their leased units.

The ordinance will continue to take a three-tiered approach to classifying short-term rental units: 

  1. Limited Share Unit: consists of a private bedroom or shared space in the owner-operator's primary residence, in which the operator is present during the rental. The fee associated with this classification is $25 per year.

  2. Home Share Unit: consists of a whole unit available for a short-term rental at the primary residence of the owner-operator (unit in which operator resides for at least nine months out of a 12 month period). The fee associated with this classification is $200 per year.

  3. Owner-Adjacent Unit: consists of an owner-occupied two- or three-family building, in which the owner lists a single secondary unit as a short-term rental. The fee associated with this classification is $200 per year.

The regulations also provide protections for the occupants of the short-term rental unit by prohibiting any property with outstanding housing, sanitary, building, fire or zoning code violations from being listed. In addition, the operator is required to provide notice to abutters of a short-term rental unit within 30 days of approved registration.

The regulations require the unit to register with the City of Boston each year to verify compliance with the provisions of the ordinance, and pay an annual license fee. Penalties will be incurred by any person who offers an ineligible unit as a short-term rental, fails to register their eligible unit before offering the unit as a short-term rental, or fails to comply with a notice of violation.

To date, the Walsh Administration has committed more than $100 million in funding to the creation and preservation of affordable housing. Mayor Walsh's short-term rental policy and this enforcement agreement build on the City's preservation and anti-displacement goals, outlined in Housing a Changing City: Boston 2030, Mayor Walsh's housing plan, and the housing goals laid out in Imagine Boston 2030, Boston's first citywide plan in 50 years. As part of both plans, Boston has prioritized increasing the overall housing supply, with a focus on creating and preserving affordable housing. In addition, a new source of funding for affordable housing, historic preservation, open space and public recreation was established through passage of the Community Preservation Act in November 2016.

This agreement will add on the City's overall housing goal of creating 69,000 new units by 2030, to meet Boston's faster than expected population growth. These 69,000 units include 15,820 income-restricted units, which would elevate Boston's income-restricted inventory total to 70,000, or one in five of all housing units. In addition, the plan set a goal to preserve 85 percent of Boston's most at-risk privately-owned affordable units, and to purchase 1,000 units of rental housing stock from the speculative market and income-restrict them for perpetuity. 

Mayor Walsh's 2019 housing security legislative package has continued Boston's focus on expanding upon the work the City has done to address the region's affordable housing crisis and displacement risks for tenants. The housing security bills proposed seek to help existing tenants, particularly older adults, remain in their homes, and creates additional funding for affordable housing.

Data shows that the availability of short-term rental units has a direct correlation to housing costs. A 2016 study by UMass Boston found a 0.4 percent increase in rent prices due to increases in AirBNB listings, and a nationwide UCLA study also found a 0.42 percent increase.


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