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Facing Airbnb suit, Boston to delay some short-term rental rules

Airbnb cofounder and CEO Brian Chesky speaks in San Francisco.
Airbnb cofounder and CEO Brian Chesky speaks in San Francisco. (Eric Risberg/Associated Press/File)

The City of Boston will delay implementing key provisions of its new rules regulating short-term rentals for at least a few months while it contends with a lawsuit from Airbnb.

The city and the home-sharing giant filed an agreement in federal court Monday stipulating that Boston would not enforce fines and data-sharing rules on online booking agents — like Airbnb — at least until a judge rules on the company’s request for an injunction while the case is court.

The agreement will likely hinder enforcement of the new rules on 6,300 Airbnb listings in Boston, and more on other big websites such as Homeaway and VRBO. They are set to take effect on Jan. 1 and are among the most stringent short-term rental regulations in the country, barring investors and renters from renting out their homes by the night.

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Those rules will still be in place, and short-term hosts will still need to register with the city. But the Walsh administration’s enforcement plan leaned heavily on the online platforms, requiring them to share data with the city and laying out fines of $300 per night for each illegal listing they host.

Last week, Airbnb cried foul, with a lawsuit claiming those rules violated federal laws that protect online platforms from being punished for content that is posted on them — in this case, short-term rental listings. They asked a federal judge to overturn the city’s rules, and to halt their enforcement while the case is pending.

“This is a case about a city trying to conscript home-sharing platforms into enforcing regulations on the city’s behalf,” attorney Howard Cooper wrote. The company has also sued to overturn a similar law in New York City and has taken other cities to court to fight regulations it does not like.

In an agreement signed by both parties and filed Monday, Boston met the company halfway, agreeing to delay enforcement of the fines and data-sharing rules for booking agents at least until a judge rules on the injunction request.

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The agreement set out a schedule for the case, with the city having until Jan. 15 to respond to Airbnb’s initial complaint, and then Airbnb having until Feb. 12 to answer back, before a hearing can be held. That likely delays enforcement until at least March.

Both Airbnb and Walsh’s office declined comment. City Councilor Michelle Wu, one of the chief architects of the short-term rental rules, said Airbnb’s lawsuit was unfortunate, but that the city would push ahead with other aspects of the rules — chiefly the ban on listings by non-owner occupants — on Jan. 1.

“The goal is to have every platform participate in upholding legal listings,” Wu said. “At the same time, the city is setting up its own short-term rental registry, which will allow the city to proactively check on complaints and look at the data we obtain.”

That would be easier, Wu and other advocates note, if state lawmakers and Governor Charlie Baker could agree on a bill that would create a statewide short-term rental registry — the first of its kind in the nation. A measure creating one passed both houses of the Legislature in July but was sent back by Baker for changes after the end of their formal session Aug. 1, leaving the bill in a sort of legislative limbo.

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“That was very disappointing,” Wu said. “It would have supported municipalities’ ability to enforce these regulations on their own.”


Tim Logan can be reached at tim.logan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.