City Councilor Wants to Discuss Possible Airbnb Regulations

Some people just aren't ready for the "sharing economy."

City Councilor Sal LaMattina wants to take a hard look at how services like Airbnb, which lets users rent out private residences to tourists and visitors for a limited duration, fall in line with Boston’s lodging rules and regulations, and whether or not they have an adverse impact on local neighborhoods or the hotel industry as a whole.

In a filing submitted this week, LaMattina said concerns have been raised in Boston about people offering up their abodes to complete strangers, and making beds, rooms, or entire homes available for overnight rentals through online services.

“These types of rentals have raised concerns and created problems in Boston and elsewhere when the spaces are used for loud or late-night gatherings, and when the rentals lead to unauthorized access into condominium or apartment complexes,” said LaMattina.

He said there have also been issues reported about violations of city trash laws, parking and noise policies, and turning neighborhoods zoned for residential living into “impromptu hotel districts.”

“The city…should review its policies and procedures with regard to these types of rentals, particularly in light of safety and quality of life concerns and the significant effect these types of rentals have on the hotel industry, given that they currently do not pay city, state, or convention center hotel taxes,” LaMattina wrote in his request for a hearing.

LaMattina hopes to bring representatives from the Boston Fire Department, Inspectional Services Department, Assessing Department, Consumer Affairs and Licensing Department, and Law Department together in one room, along with the general public, to discuss the pros and cons of online rental websites like Airbnb.

LaMattina noted that other cities have already taken steps toward regulating short-term lodging options made available through smartphone apps and websites. In Quincy this month, a man was hit with a $1,000 fine for allegedly running an “illegal” bed and breakfast out of his home through Airbnb, after police received complaints from neighbors, according to the Patriot Ledger.

Places like New York City, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon, recently introduced rules that either micro-manage or block rental services like Airbnb, Flipkey, HomeAway, 9Flats, and VRBO.

Even here in Boston, Airbnb has been on municipality leaders’ radars. Back in July, reported that a memo went out indicating that officials from the Inspectional Services Department shouldn’t fine people for renting out their properties through Airbnb while they examine “how these services fit within…existing zoning and permitting definitions.”

LaMattina’s request for a hearing comes at a time when officials have been presented with tough questions on how to best handle a slew of emerging technologies.

Just last week, the City Council’s Committee on Government Operations met to discuss a parking space-saving app called Haystack, which lets users rent out publicly-owned spots to each other, and kicks a portion of the proceeds to the privately-owned business. While the city hasn’t taken a hard stance against Airbnb just yet, council members are expected to seek a ban on Haystack’s operations.

The city has also been grappling with smartphone-based technologies like Uber and Lyft, which have both disrupted Boston’s existing livery services and taxi industry. So far, no guidelines have been put in place to curb the these practices, but city officials have certainly made clear that they’re monitoring activity and discussions are underway.