City might pass Airbnb ordinance

Regulations on short-term rentals aim to discourage investor units

Karen Morales | 2/7/2018, 11:26 a.m.

As the Boston City Council prepares to deliberate over Mayor Martin Walsh’s recently filed ordinance to regulate short-term rental units, a coalition of housing advocates considers whether the proposed guidelines are enough to curtail the home-share industry’s negative effects on affordable housing.

Walsh’s ordinance calls for classifying and registering each short-term rental unit in the city, as well as implementing deterrents for investors and property owners to keep from monopolizing housing units, which can result in higher rent prices.

In some instances, investors have rented out whole buildings or units solely to customers through Airbnb or other similar services, with per-night rentals, a more profitable strategy than a regular lease where a tenant pays on a monthly basis.

“This ordinance is an important step towards our goal of reducing housing costs by creating disincentives to taking units off the market for use as short-term rentals,” said Walsh in a statement. “It also allows for the continued use of short-term rentals in scenarios that are non-disruptive to our neighborhoods and support our tourism industry.”


The regulations classify three different types of permissible short-rental units: a limited share unit, a home share unit and an investor unit.

A limited share unit consists of a private room or shared space in the host’s primary residence, in which they are present during the rental. Hosts would have to pay an annual fee of $25 to the city.

A home share unit is a whole unit available for rental at the owner’s primary residence where he or she lives in for at least nine months out of the year. There is a fee of $100 a year for this type of rental.

And lastly, an investor unit is an entire unit that is non-owner- and non-tenant-occupied. Owners of an investor unit have to pay an annual fee of $500 to the city and can only offer the investor unit for 90 consecutive or nonconsecutive days out of the year.

Not enough

However, Lydia Lowe, director of the Chinatown Community Land Trust, would prefer that the city not allow any investor units at all, and instead adopted an ordinance similar to the one passed in Cambridge that regulates short-term rental units to just one single host.

Last August, the Cambridge City Council voted to require short-term rental hosts to live in the same or an adjacent building. The new rule will take effect in April.

“The problem with only proposing a 90-day limit [for investor units] is that it’s impossible to enforce because there are so many different platforms like Airbnb that a short term rental can utilize,” said Lowe. “Which is one of the reasons we favor a simpler approach of one host, one home.”

This approach, Lowe said, would stay true to home-sharing’s original intent as “an alternative approach to tourism, to rent a room in somebody’s home when they are there or on vacation for a more neighborhood feeling.”

She added, “And as a way for people to make a little money on the side, but not to take whole buildings and whole units off the permanent housing market.”