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    Vote on short-term rental rules could happen Wednesday

    City Council President Michelle Wu said rules restricting short-term rentals are overdue.
    Elise Amendola/AP/File 2016
    City Council President Michelle Wu said rules restricting short-term rentals are overdue.

    After years of study and months of debate, city officials in Boston are set to vote Wednesday on a bill that could sharply rein in the booming business of short-term rentals.

    The chairman of a key City Council committee said he’ll call for a vote Wednesday on a proposal by Mayor Martin J. Walsh that would ban investor-owned apartments from being rented by the night, hotel-style, on popular websites such as Airbnb. It’s a move the Walsh administration has argued could help ease rents in Boston by putting an estimated 2,000 apartments, now being used as short-term rentals, back into the city’s tight housing market.

    During several City Council hearings, much of the debate over the issue has focused on how best to protect the city’s rental housing market while still enabling homeowners and small-business landlords to make extra cash by renting short-term through the site. Housing advocates, the hotel industry, and some neighborhood groups have pushed for tougher regulations, while short-term rental operators and Airbnb hosts have lobbied for less restrictive rules.


    A last-minute amendment by council member Michael Flaherty would allow owners of two-family and three-decker homes to rent a spare unit year-round, instead of 120 nights a year as Walsh proposed. It’s an attempt, Flaherty said, to forge consensus on the issue between representatives of downtown neighborhoods worried about displacement and outer neighborhood representatives who want the tourism dollars short-term rentals can bring.

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    “The issue of short-term rentals is multifaceted, and what works for other cities does not always work for Boston,” said Flaherty, who chairs the committee considering the bill. “There has been a goal to build consensus among my colleagues and other stakeholders.”

    Whether that widespread agreement exists will become clear on Wednesday. A hearing last month revealed sharp splits on the City Council over several issues, and once the measure is brought to the floor, council members are free to propose amendments of their own.

    One key player in the discussion, council member Michelle Wu, said she may propose minor changes Wednesday but generally supported the bill. Wu said she was confident that Flaherty’s proposal, or something close to it, will pass Wednesday. Short-term rental rules, she said, are overdue.

    “We know from data and we know from hearing from community members that it’s time to close these loopholes,” Wu said. “There are a lot of pressures on people trying to find a place to live in Boston and this is a small step that we can take to protect our housing stock.”


    Meanwhile, Walsh has said he wouldn’t rule out a veto if the council passes a bill that includes provisions he does not support. A spokeswoman said Walsh “has continued to engage” the council on the matter and “looks forward to reviewing any policy that is passed by the council.”

    Tim Logan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.