Newton eyes whether to regulate and tax Airbnb
NEWTON — Should residents who rent out space in their homes on Airbnb and similar services come under greater local oversight?
City councilors are looking at how other communities regulate these types of short-term rentals, and are considering whether it makes sense to implement similar rules in Newton.
Websites like Airbnb allow homeowners to rent out rooms — or whole houses — to travelers looking for a place to stay.
But officials are concerned that the city could be missing out on tax revenue from short-term rentals, plus local neighborhoods could be adversely affected by residents who continually rent out space in their homes.
While there appears to be under 50 of these Airbnb-style short-term rentals in Newton, some councilors have heard concerns from residents that the rentals could take up more parking and cause other problems in residential neighborhoods, City Councilor Ted Hess-Mahan said.
“We thought we’d get ahead of the curve” and look at how these rentals are regulated elsewhere, Hess-Mahan said.
Short-term rentals are usually defined as rentals of less than 30 days, according to a presentation to city councilors Monday by Michael Gleba, the city’s senior planner.
Newton allows homeowners to rent out space for up to three unrelated people, but more tenants would require a special permit as a boarding house if the dwelling is located in a residential district. Right now, short-term rentals in Newton are being regulated under those rules, said Gleba.
“[We] try to fit this new use into preexisting categories,” he said.
According to a report by Newton officials, some local municipalities have been looking at reining in those sorts of rentals, including Cambridge, which has about 600 Airbnb listings within the city’s borders.
In Cambridge, city councilors have considered a proposal to increase regulation of Airbnb-style rentals. According to a copy of the plan that was reviewed in November, the city would require all short-term rentals to be registered with Cambridge’s inspectional services department, among other requirements. Short-term rentals would also be subject to fees and taxes from city and state authorities, according to the proposed regulations.
In Somerville, existing rules allow short-term rentals if the property’s owner also lives in the residence, or at a bed and breakfast with an on-site operator, according to Somerville’s guidelines.
Renters cannot sublet their rooms as short-term rentals and the city’s building code requires additional safety upgrades before a room can be used for a short-term rental, the guidelines say.
Planning officials in Cambridge and Somerville could not be reached for comment.
While local officials have considered rules to oversee Airbnb-style rentals, state lawmakers are looking at taxing them like hotels and other lodging.
In January, Governor Charlie Baker proposed requiring landlords to collect hotel taxes if they rent out rooms for five months each year on Airbnb and similar services. Baker estimated his plan would earn $12 million in fiscal 2018.
Another plan floated by state lawmakers is intended to generate about $50 million.
In a statement released by a company spokeswoman Tuesday, Airbnb said it “is committed to reaching agreements and working on fair legislation which allows us to collect and remit taxes on behalf of our hosts and guests.”
Airbnb, which has spent more than $100,000 on lobbying efforts in Massachusetts since 2015, said it looked forward to continuing conversations with state lawmakers.
The company said it is committed to “ensuring a good quality life for neighborhoods,” the statement said.
Among those who would support taxing Airbnb-style rentals is Newton City Councilor Emily Norton, who said the city should look closely at the services as another source of local revenue.
A mix of rising taxes and housing values is making it difficult for some residents to afford to remain in Newton, a city housing study has found. And Norton said officials should be looking for ways to ease the tax burden on residents.
“Before we go to the residents for any tax increase,” officials should look for other sources of revenue, Norton said. “I feel it’s important to them that we have done our homework.”