Business & Tech

Cambridge proposes Airbnb-type rentals be owner-occupied

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Cambridge could restrict short-term rentals, like those found on the Airbnb app, to owner-occupied residences.

Concerned that short-term rentals on sites such as Airbnb are affecting the city’s already tight rental market, Cambridge officials are considering limiting such rentals to owner-occupied residences.

“Cambridge is in the midst of an unprecedented housing crisis,” said City Councilor Craig A. Kelley, who drafted the proposal. “Speculating on the short-term market does affect us. Figuring out how to allow short-term rentals to thrive, but at the same time not overwhelm our housing stock, has been a challenge.”

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Under the proposed ordinance, only rooms in owner-occupied homes — and just one unit in owner-occupied, multi-family buildings of up to four units — may be rented on a short term basis, defined as less than 30 days at a time.

All short-term rentals would have to be registered with the city’s Inspectional Services Department, while units rented in owner-occupied, multi-family homes would also have to be inspected to ensure they meet safety standards.

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Kelley acknowledges that it is hard to quantify how many of Cambridge’s short-term rentals are listings by absentee investors because there is no hard data.

“Anecdotally, we know it happens,” he said.

But one thing is certain: the number of short-term rentals in the city, at least those listed on Airbnb, have increased, said Kelley. He said the ordinance is aimed at listings on multiple platforms, such as FlipKey and HomeAway, and not just Airbnb, which is the most popular platform used in major metropolitan areas.

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In January 2015, there were about 900 listings on Airbnb in Cambridge, according to Denver-based Airbnb analytics tracking company Airdna, including entire units and homes, as well as private and shared rooms. By this January, the latest data available, that number had increased to just under 1,400 listings.

Over the last year, through Feb. 28, about 47 percent of the Cambridge listings on Airbnb were available for at least half of the year, according to Airdna.

“Airbnb went from places available seven days average to 20 days average,” said Scott Shatford, founder and chief executive of Airdna. “That is one of the reasons regulations are being discussed. It used to be a hobby, and it’s becoming much more professional operations. Places are available almost the entire month.”

In a statement, Airbnb said that over the last year they have worked with officials in Cambridge and other communities “to develop rules that are fair and allow local renters and homeowners to use home sharing to make ends meet.

“As we’ve done in cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and New Orleans, we look forward to working on reasonable policy that helps to ensure a good quality life for neighborhoods, protects housing, and allows residents to share the homes in which they live.”

Cambridge’s proposed regulations are a way to get ahead of statewide regulations proposed on Beacon Hill, Kelley said.

A bill proposed by state Representative Aaron Michlewitz of the North End seeks to regulate short-term rentals more like hotels by adding taxation and inspections and creating regulations for three different categories of hosts based on how frequently they rent out their units.

‘Figuring out how to allow short-term rentals to thrive, but at the same time not overwhelm our housing stock, has been a challenge.’

Craig A. Kelley, Cambridge city councilor 
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A separate proposal by Governor Charlie Baker seeks to levy state and local taxes on hosts who rent rooms, whole units, or homes for at least 150 days a year.

Skip Schloming, executive director of the Small Property Owners Association, which represents rental property owners in the state, said he likes Cambridge’s idea of registering short-term rental units with the city, as well as subjecting them to safety inspections. But he objects to the owner-occupancy requirement.

“I don’t think that should be a limitation as to what you can do with your property as long as it’s safe,” Schloming said. “Why shouldn’t a building down the street or down the block that you own not be as good a place for an Airbnb? It’s just another way to run your business.”

Marc Draisen, executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, the region’s planning agency, said he is concerned that short-term rentals are affecting the real estate market and is advocating that any state legislation include a data collection component.

“If you have a corporate investor of any kind who is able to pick up several hundred or thousand rental units in a community and begin to rent them out to short-term renters, losing those units is a big deal,” Draisen said. “We don’t yet have a good consistent source of data but it makes logical sense that if these units are becoming short-term rentals, then they’re no longer available for [long-term] rent.”

Katheleen Conti can be reached at kconti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKConti.
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