The sharing economy has made traveling to foreign cities easier, and short-term rentals through platforms like Airbnb have in many cases become the avid traveler’s favorite go-to solution. But the practicality of these platforms often comes at the expense of the livelihood of locals in cities across continents. The American City of Boston is the latest to take up the battle against companies like Airbnb, as it imposes stricter regulations on short-term rentals.
Last Monday, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh filed a proposed ordinance that is aimed at regulating the practices of long and short-term rentals. The ordinance is an attempt to allow Bostonian homeowners to rent out their homes for additional income, while preventing commercial platforms from taking advantage of long-term rentals by turning them into more profitable short-term rentals.
To differentiate between the type of residences that are permitted to be rented out under the new regulations, Walsh’s ordinance creates three tiers of homes with different annual fees. Limited share units, which are where the primary owner resides in the unit and offers their space for rent, will cost an annual fee of $25. Home share units, on the other hand, which are where the whole unit is offered for short-term rent, defined as 90 days per year, will cost an annual fee of $100. The third type of residence available for rent are investor units, which allows whole units that are unoccupied and not the owner’s primary residence to be rented out for 90 days at $500 per year.
Boston’s housing market has seen a spike in rent prices in recent years due to an increase in the prices of short-term rentals. Like many other urbanites, Bostonians are seeing long-term rentals being converted into short-term rentals in order to be rented off at higher daily prices to tourists. Barcelona, among dozens of other cities in and beyond continental Europe, is also witnessing a similar phenomenon, which erupted in mass protests across the Catalonian city last summer. Although housing prices are falling in Boston, working-class individuals are finding it increasingly difficult to make rent, according to a recent study.
In another study conducted by Community Labor United, a collective working to improve the livelihood of working class individuals and individuals of color in the Boston area, 12 percent of homeowners were found to make up to 45 percent of the total revenue made from short-term rentals in Boston. The mayor’s office wants to change that.
Chris English, a policy analyst working with the mayor’s office, said to Nextcity that the city is working on providing regulations that do not discourage Bostonians from making money on the side, but instead make the process harder for commercial platforms. These platforms, however, are making it difficult to find a middle ground since they are not providing the city with any data on short-term rentals in the city to facilitate such regulations. Accordingly, English and his team had to sweep the platforms’ websites to collect data themselves. They found that there were 5,500 active listings in the Boston area and approximately 2,000 of those listings are actively rented out full-time, which would not be permitted under the proposed regulations.
Bostonians, however, have not been quiet about the hike in rent prices. Last October, several community members and organizations got together and organized a protest that went straight through Boston’s Chinatown to protest against ongoing rent hikes, and the consequential forced displacement of long-term tenants.
Other cities have also been taking action against companies like Airbnb. In Seattle, homeowners can only rent out a maximum of two properties to short-term tenants, while Paris placed a 120-day maximum on short-term rentals in the French capital. New Orleans has a similar cap in place, but that has not stopped homeowners from circumnavigating the system and renting their homes on different platforms for 90-days each.
Although the proposed ordinance seems like a feasible solution to Boston’s problem, critics doubt that the 90-day limit is adequate incentive to persuade homeowners to (re)convert short-term rentals into long-term rentals to help solve the housing crisis in the Eastern coastal city. To augment the ordinance, the Community Labor United is requesting that short-term rentals be restricted to regular residents of Boston and a mechanism be enforced to hold homeowners responsible for their guests’ behavior. City Council has 60 days to pass or reject the ordinance before it automatically goes into effect.