Boston City Council Approves Regulations on Short-Term Rentals

Boston City Council on Wednesday, June 15, voted overwhelmingly to adopt new regulations on short-term rental units, with the hopes that tightening market restrictions will help ease the burdens of housing displacement and rising rent costs felt by residents throughout the city. The regulations come at the end of a long and heated debate between city officials, housing justice advocates and rental companies such as AirBnB– the latter of which vehemently pushed against reform.

These new rules state that homeowners and owner-occupied two- or three-family buildings will have to register with the city and pay an annual fee if they wish to rent out a room or an entire unit on a nightly basis. Most notably, the rules also completely ban investor-owned units from participating in short-term rentals, a condition that advocates of this ordinance adamantly demanded. This action would liberate some 2,000 apartments in the city that are currently being rented by the night to tourists instead of being rented out by city residents. With such a tight and expensive housing market in Boston, these apartments’ renewed availability will bring much needed relief, supporters attest.

“It’ll strike a reasonable balance to regulate the [short-term rental] industry,” said Councilor Ed Flynn, who met with Chinatown residents to see the effects that short-terms rentals had on the neighborhood firsthand. “Entire buildings [have been] purchased by large corporations and turned into short-term rentals… These were previously owned and occupied by working class immigrants and their families, many of them low-wage workers.”

A 120-day a year cap on owner-occupied short-term rentals was removed from Mayor Marty Walsh’s initial proposal of this ordinance. The approved regulations contain no such cap– allowing unlimited yearly rentals for owner-occupied properties– which left housing justice advocates feeling uneasy.

“This, overall, is a victory. But there are some bittersweet elements… because the [cap failed to pass],” said Lisa Owens, Executive Director of City Life/Vida Urbana. “If even a fraction of the owners took advantage of that, the results would be disastrous. The council had an opportunity to do something about that… and they failed. We have to work to make this stronger.”

Some members of the city council attempted to adopt an amendment that would reinstate Mayor Walsh’s original 120-day cap, but it failed to pass.

“[Removing] the 120-day cap on AirBnB in this ordinance [is] condemning our outer neighborhoods and many of our most vulnerable residents to the unintended consequences,” said Councilor Matt O’Malley, who proposed the amendment.

Another amendment made to the original proposal  requires data to be submitted to the city on an annual basis so that city officials could gain more insight on Boston’s short-term rental industry.

Mayor Walsh announced that he would sign the regulations into law within the coming days.

Zach Mobrice is a contributor of Spare Change News and a wage-worker in the city of Boston. He is a journalism graduate of Roger Williams University.