Airbnb debate on Beacon Hill may be swayed by San Francisco vote

Printed from:

San Francisco voters got the chance Tuesday to rein in Airbnb and similar online services that have pressured housing costs and siphoned business from hotels around the nation, as a ballot measure in the city by the bay sought to limit short-term residential rentals.

The outcome could influence debate in other areas, including New York City and Massachusetts, where measures are also pending to put the brakes on the popular services.

On Beacon Hill, a proposal from state Rep. Aaron Michlewitz (D-Boston) would require people who want to rent out their space to register, obtain a license and pay taxes on the rental payments they receive. The state excise tax rate would be 5 percent, while it would give cities and towns the option to impose a local tax of up to 6 percent or 6.5 percent in Boston.

Civil penalties for failure to comply would be steep, at $1,000 a day, according to the language of his proposal, H 2618, which would also bar businesses from renting out residential units.

Michlewitz described Airbnb and other short-term rental platforms as an unregulated industry. Backers of restrictions on websites that facilitate short-term rentals say they undermine hotels, reduce tax revenue and inflate property values and rental rates, making it more expensive for residents.

The bill would also force platforms such as Airbnb to maintain records of taxes owed and demonstrate that the taxes have been paid on space in Massachusetts that is rented through their sites, and subject them to the same $1,000 a day penalties for failure to comply. It would also give cities and towns the option to ban short-term rentals outright.

At a Revenue Committee hearing on the measure in May, Michlewitz said one of his concerns is preventing real estate owners from constantly renting out a residential property on a short-term basis and never living in the unit, according to a State House News Service report. His bill would require those offering a residence for short-term rental to document to local authorities that the space is their primary residence and that they have occupied it for at least 60 days before making it available to renters. The record-keeping rules would also require occupants to document the number of days they actually lived in the unit each year.

The bill would require renters who use Internet sites like Airbnb to offer short-term rentals of their space to inform the apartment or condominium owner of that intent. And it would bar occupants who lease or rent a space from collecting more per day from a short-term renter than they themselves pay in rent to a landlord.

Michlewitz’s bill would also establish insurance coverage minimums, requirements to adhere to building codes and safety standards and record-keeping rules as well.

In San Francisco, the ballot measure would limit short-term rentals of apartments and other spaces to no more than 75 days a year, and would impose city hotel occupancy taxes as well. It would also let neighbors bring “private action lawsuits” against violators, according to, a political research organization in Madison, Wisconsin.

The New York City Council may restrict the length of time a residential space could be rented on a short-term basis, according to Reuters. It said Airbnb’s global policy chief, Chris Lehane is using the San Francisco battle to shape its response to measures in other jurisdictions that would restrict its operations.

The San Francisco proposal had support from hotel workers’ unions as well as community advocates concerned about soaring residential rental values in the city, according to Ballotpedia. It said Airbnb devoted more than $8 million to fight the measure.