Boston Considering New Regulations for Airbnb, Similar Sites

8/20/14Follow @curtwoodward

The rise of home-rental services like Airbnb has been hailed as a revolution for travelers and homeowners alike—a leading example of the “sharing economy,” letting everyday people save money on rentals and profit from their underused property.

Local government, however, has been dealing with the complaints that inevitably come when a residential home is turned into an ad-hoc rental business. And they’re also not too keen on missing the flow of taxes that officially licensed hotels and bed-and-breakfasts have to pay.

Boston’s City Council is among those regulators starting to pay more attention. On Wednesday, the council said it would take a deeper look into businesses that let people rent non-commercial beds and homes in residential areas, including Airbnb, FlipKey, and HomeAway.

City councilman Salvatore LaMattina said he would like to get representatives from the companies in question at a future hearing on the matter, along with officials from the city fire and police departments, to discuss whether the city should restrict residential rentals.

LaMattina acknowledged that he thought the concept behind Airbnb and other similar booking services was pretty cool “until I started to receive complaints from my constituents.”

“People coming in and out of the buildings, and they have no idea who they are. In some cases, there’s some loud parties, some late-night gatherings taking place. There’s issues of parking in the neighborhood and trash,” he said. “I don’t know about you, but I’d rather live in a stable neighborhood than a transient neighborhood.”

So far, Boston’s approach is a bit slower than in some other cities and states. New York has been particularly aggressive, with the state’s attorney general forcing Airbnb to hand over some data about its operations as part of his efforts to regulate and oversee the blooming sector.

Boston officials also note that regulators in San Francisco and Portland, OR, have started charging hotel taxes to private home rentals in response to the popularity of Airbnb and other sites.

Council member Tito Jackson agreed the city should look into more regulation, but he said Boston officials should try to balance their approach so they remain welcoming to new kinds of innovative businesses.

“If people are actually going to start these companies here, we have to figure out an environment that’s complementary but that also deals with the issues,” he said. “Our regulatory environment must stay such that the innovation economy can grow and prosper here.”

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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