NEWPORT, R.I. — Earlier this month, a 22-year old University of Rhode Island student was killed after being stabbed in the neck during an altercation.
The stabbing took place during a fight at a rental home in Newport, which was the scene of a house party that night. The rental was booked through a third-party website — something lawmakers say does not allow for proper vetting of renters and makes it difficult to deter out-of-control gatherings.
Senator Dawn Euer and Representative Lauren Carson, both Newport Democrats, said the anonymity that comes with using third-party platforms reduces the sense of responsibility renters and property owners feel, complicating local efforts to maintain public safety.
In Rhode Island, there is no government entity that can track properties rented through third-party platforms, nor is there any public list that companies send to the state or cities and towns. That could soon change.
On Tuesday night, the Senate approved legislation sponsored by Euer that would require every short-term rental property listed for rent on any third-party hosting site to be registered with the state’s Department of Business Regulations.
The legislation, which had four co-sponsors, would create a statewide registry of basic information about each property, such as the owner’s contact information in case of an emergency, and information about compliance with local safety and tax regulations.
Euer said it was just a few years ago that the state required platforms like Airbnb and VRBO to comply with hospitality tax, but the state only receives the money with a breakdown of how much of it each municipality should receive.
“We don’t get addresses, so there’s no government entity that can currently track properties rented in this manner. We don’t even know how many properties are offered or rented this way,” said Euer. “Without this information, there’s no way to ensure they are complying with laws and regulations that keep the public and their guests safe.”
She said that Newport, and other municipalities, have been “at a loss” in ensuring their compliance with tax, health, and safety codes that were created with the expectation that residential properties housed residents, not travelers. She said having every property identified and registered would increase accountability and ensure that local authorities have the contact information of the owner, if needed.
The bill will now go to the House, where Carson is sponsoring companion legislation.
“As the hospitality industry works to rebound from a disastrous 2020, as well as the employee shortage it faces in 2021, our state should not let the safety issues posed by the practices of the short-term rental industry continue to detract from its success,” wrote the two lawmakers in a recent joint op-ed in Newport This Week.