Growing ‘couch surfing’ practice spotlighted

On September 18, 2013, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

A couch is not a home, as far as Alderman Courtney O’Keefe and several area landlords are concerned.

A couch is not a home, as far as Alderman Courtney O’Keefe and several area landlords are concerned.

By Harry Kane

Call it hard times, call it the economy, but more and more people turn to couch surfing for shelter.

Landlords will be instructed by the Director of Communications to prohibit couch surfing following an order submitted by Ward 5 Alderman Courtney O’Keefe during the BOA meeting on Sept. 12.

Couch surfing is a popular lodging method among college students, which allows someone to sleep on a couch for a minor fee or sometimes for free. Until recently, couch surfing has remained under the radar, but a growing practice of renting couches through niche websites has landlords up in arms.

The couch surfing concern was brought to Alderman O’Keefe’s attention by a landlord who owns property on Highland Avenue.  A renter was allegedly allowing numerous visitors to sleep on their couch, and the Highland Avenue landlord became suspicious.

After doing some digging, the landlord discovered that the renter under suspicion belonged to a dedicated website that rented couches for a nightly fee, according to Alderman O’Keefe.

“This website says to renters: this is a great opportunity to make a little extra money by renting out your couch,” she said.

The landlord was unaware of the couch renting operation. “To this woman’s horror, she realized that not only was her address on there, but photographs of the front of the home, photographs of the inside of the home,” Alderman O’Keefe said.

When potential “couch renters” saw the bargain, they leaped at the opportunity. Couch renting fees range in price, but $25 is average for a night’s stay.

One of the tenants living in the Highland Avenue apartment, who took part in the couch fiasco, has allegedly been evicted.

Alderman O’Keefe stressed that couch surfing is a public safety issue, especially after the front porch couch fire at 85 Bromfield Road on Aug. 28.

To prevent similar couch-related predicaments, Alderman O’Keefe asked that the Director of Communications urge landlords to include language in the leases that prohibit similar transgressions.



54 Responses to “Growing ‘couch surfing’ practice spotlighted”

  1. Dan says:

    This is a good start but the real problem will be with absentee landlords. Maybe a letter could be sent to them too? Good job to alderman O’Keefe clearly she cares about safety in her ward.

  2. D$ says:

    Get the gestapo out, your privacy is limited…

  3. A.Moore says:

    Been going on for many years. Not that it is a geat thing but some need it just to stay afloat in this economy.

  4. Ken says:

    Wouldn’t this already be covered under whatever “No Subletting” clauses already exist in people’s leases? Why force this upon lessees and lessors who may already have an understanding about this practice?

  5. Mike says:

    Ken, I don’t think it is covered because of the time span of the stay. This has to be separately and specifically noted in the lease.

  6. Paul says:

    Landlords have little power to enforce terms of lease in this state.

  7. PixiePocahontas says:

    Unfortunately, this goes on quite a bit, especially with college students and young single professionals. I encountered this myself with out-of-town guests and friends who were in transition of moving. Usually, it was for a few weeks at a time and also dog sitting for a friend who was traveling. But I didn’t mind, as long as it wasn’t long term and if they let me know about it.

    I’m not sure home insurance would cover if someone is not on the lease, but the situation never has presented itself. Hopefully, there will be more information for landlords to protect themselves.

    Good for Courtney that she has addressed this issue.

    I’m sure it happens mostly with absentee landlords.

  8. A,Moore says:

    What did the fire at 85 Bromfield have to do with couch surfing?

  9. Ron Newman says:

    I don’t understand that either. Having a couch on your front porch (a bad idea) has nothing to do with couch surfing (which is generally a ‘pay it forward’ exchange among tourists globally)

  10. A.Moore says:

    This happens with many homeowners too. I know. Which is why so many are renting rooms. Most just to make the mortgage.

  11. SomervilleSam says:

    Dear Alderman O’Keefe

    Butt out.

    If someone in Somerville wants to host some international traveler that they met on for a few days, that’s not City Hall’s business. I would be surprised if a landlord has much of an enforceable way to interfere with this either, as most ‘couchsurfing’ doesn’t involve any commercial exchange and because people have the right of association. Couchsurfing is more of being a Good Samaritan than it is running some kind of underground illegal economy.

    Now, kindly go pave some potholes.

    Best Regards

  12. RM says:

    This is absolutely a misrepresentation of the Couchsurfing community. In fact it is expressly against the rules of the site and the ethos and culture of the community to charge any fee for Couchsurfing. I don’t know what website Alderman O’Keefe is looking at, but nor does she have any way to know which site the people in question are using. She may have found _a_ website that says “this is a great way to make money,” but there is a very large national and international community dedicated to free hospitality and friendliness. It’s upsetting that the BOA are getting into the middle of this under-informed. And instructing landlords to prohibit it? Bah! I’ll show to my tenants and suggest they might enjoy it as a way to meet other young people!

  13. RM says:

    I just went back and re-read this:
    “Alderman O’Keefe stressed that couch surfing is a public safety issue, especially after the front porch couch fire at 85 Bromfield Road on Aug. 28.”

    How is there a connection between having people sleep on your couch, and an arsonist setting fire to couches on porches? I’m sitting on my couch as I type this. Also most furniture stores sell couches.

  14. joanne l. says:

    I would think the difference between the situation in the article, and just hosting a few ‘friends’, is the exchange of money for the service. If people are charging someone to stay in an apartment that is not theirs, then that is a problem. What if someone who has paid to stay a few nights makes a complaint about something? Do they have standing? What if they are injured on the premises, or cause damage?

  15. A.Moore says:

    Just check Craig’slist, they have ads for people to rent a couch for the night. It is a business. Both landlords and tenants are renting them out. Personally I wouldn’t want a stranger in my house. Who knows what kind of person they are.

  16. ritepride says:

    Well now the feds & state can check out the various couch surfing websites. (“Facebook is for fools”) Then get the perpetrators offering this for “unreported income” and violation of the various taxes applicable similar to hotel taxes….after all your dealing with Somerville and the state of MA….C..h..a….C..h..i..n..g!!!!

  17. murt says:

    somervillesam…tell mark i said hi

  18. Linda says:


    Courtney didn’t say it was city hall’s business. She’s warning landlords about the practice. They can do what they want from there. By the way, she paves potholes too…and makes brings great businesses in to magoun square…and informs her residents. STFU.

  19. Dan says:

    “good Samaritan”???!!!

    For who??!! Certainly not me if someone who lives downstairs allows every moe, dick and harry to sleep on their couch!!

  20. Dan says:

    She never mentioned the bromfield fire during the meeting. Why is it included in the article??

  21. News Flash says:

    September 19, 2013
    Somerville, MA

    In a last-ditch effort to remain relevant in the race for alderman, Marc Niedergang held a press conference Thursday morning in which he declared himself “pro-couch.”

    “I’ve owned a house in this community for 30 years,” says Niedergang, “and come to think of it I have always owned a couch.” Niedergang’s speech touched on a favorite couch that he owned during the 1980s and an oversized davenport from his college days. He did not take questions.

    There was light attendance for the event and the press included a commenter from the Somerville Times and a beat reporter from Couch and Sofa Quarterly.

  22. MP says:

    “Courtney didn’t say it was city hall’s business. She’s warning landlords about the practice.

    Incorrect, Linda, maybe you should RTFA?

    “Landlords will be instructed by the Director of Communications to prohibit couch surfing following an order submitted by Ward 5 Alderman Courtney O’Keefe during the BOA meeting on Sept. 12.”

  23. ritepride says:

    “News Flash”…Niedergang..wasnt he the guy in Animal House with the chrome helmet that the horse dragged across the football field????

  24. I believe there is some confusion between what is written in this article and what I actually submitted through the Board of Aldermen on Thursday September 12th.

    The legislation (#195512) reads, ‘That the Director of Communications warn landlords about “couch surfing”.’ No where do I ask that it be prohibited in the text or during the meeting. You can go to the City’s Meeting Portal and watch the video of the meeting and, starting at 48:08, hear my remarks on the topic. Furthermore, I did not reference the Bromfield Road fire and do not know why it is included in this, otherwise well-written, article.

    Should anyone have any questions, please feel free to call or email and I will be happy to answer them.

    Courtney O’Keefe
    Ward 5 Alderman

  25. Lulu says:

    I have a 2 family and I don’t want couch surfers. I charge rent based on the number of tenants. By allowing couch surfing, I’m losing money by paying for the water for someone else to shower and do their laundry (we give them free use of a washer and dryer)!

  26. Barry the Pig says:

    I rent a couple of properties and I’m thinking of not renting anymore because if you do the math, couch surfing is much more profitable. My house has 5 bedrooms, and I can rent it for about 3.5 K/month to a group of people. OR, I put couches in the living and dining rooms and make 175$ per day. The issue becomes on how to make sure you don’t get crazies in, but… It’s a good deal for everybody!

  27. A,Moore says:

    Barry, front and back porches bring in extra for couch surfing. Don’t know the going rate for basements.

  28. ritepride says:

    No “Barry” it wont work as there are occupancy permit requirements depending on the number of Apts….Thus if you are over the limit…then Cha Ching! you get fined…Now if you were a developer connected to the Curtatone Development Group…then you would probably be exempt & Lego Joe would be floating municipal bonds (at taxpayer expense) to redo your home

  29. Somerbreeze says:

    Forget the other lame stuff…

    When is the COUCH SURFING FESTIVAL happening?

    Can it be scheduled the same day as the Honk Parade?

    Casting Couch Productions out of Hollywood is offering to sponsor
    it, so the rumor goes….

  30. A.Moore says:

    Maybe we can sut down Magoun Square for this one.

  31. Ray Spitzer says:

    They should have that on the same day as the Open Arts Studio thing.

  32. Somerbreeze says:

    @ A.Moore – Good thinking–but ALL vehicular traffic in the city should be banned during the Couch Surfing Festival!

    Any and all violators should get ticketed–especially ambulances!

    But any vehicles bearing Tufts decals should be allowed egress/exit–it’s only fair!

  33. A,Moore says:

    I hate to discriminate but it seems like Magoun Square may be the only one that does not get shut down for festivities at the people’s expense. We should make things equal here and fair.

  34. PixiePocahontas says:

    You guys are hilarious. Too bad this is no laughing matter to those of us paying the most in taxes.

    Can we ask someone to post all properties owned and invested by city officials? Instead of being cloaked by the “LoveLucrativeCondos”, “In Trust for MeMeMe”? Especially that $10 million dollar project on Cedar Street?
    It’s too bad the writers at the Phoenix didn’t expose this early on and take it as far as it needed to go.

    What we need is a community coalition to stop this hijacking of our city. But knowing that this is so deeply entrenched, it will be hard to expose without political fallout.

    I give you all so much credit for keeping that spirit alive. I’m sure they are reading all posts and putting their cronies on these forums to deflect blame.
    Becareful not to make yourself a target if you push back too much.
    The more letters to those in highest power just might make a difference.

    We are all reasonable people who just want to keep the homes we earned. We should not have to bow to extortion, however it’s form. But guess what, that word is out and everyone knows what this administration is about. Just because they caterer to their young so called “professionals”, does not make it right. Their promises of bringing in commercial real estate to lower our taxes is a decade old LIE. They won’t come because no one in big business wants to deal with the obvious one sided rule book. Condos is their best gig in town. The more they build, the more money machines are created.

  35. Ron Newman says:

    A Moore – not quite Magoun, but Broadway in front of Trum Field is closed for the Thursday-before-July-4 street party and fireworks.

  36. Luke says:

    No one has ever launched an event in magoun to need an event permit and block it off…something I am hoping our alderman does at some point. It would be cool to have an octoberfest there.

  37. Ron Newman says:

    Luke: on this month’s Licensing Commission agenda I see this:

    Old Magoun Saloon, requesting approval of a Special Alcohol License for the purpose of dispensing and selling alcoholic beverages for Oktoberfest Style Biergarten Music Event to be held outdoors in CVS parking Lot in Magoun Sq. on Oct. 5 & Oct. 6, 2013 from 9AM-8PM.

  38. Boston Kate says:

    Oktoberfest Style Biergarten Music Event

    Time to dust off the old leiderhosen, guys.

  39. Mike says:

    Boston Kate->awesome!

    Ron-> that event will be taking place in the cvs lot so magoun wont be shut down.

  40. SomervilleSam says:


    What is the $10 mil Cedar Street project?

  41. emir says:

    comments here and elsewhere lead me to conclude that c’ok dances w/ bullies.

  42. The Hat says:

    Lederhosen = Leather pants

    Leiderhosen = Unfortunate pants

    Any difference, really?


  43. Somerbreeze says:

    Ven Der Mayor says, he is Der Master Race
    We Smile, Smile, right in Der Mayor’s Face

    Not to luff Der Mayor is a great disgrace
    So we Smile, Smile right in Der Mayor’s Face…

  44. Sam,

    Don’t you know? The one that is the big buzzzzzoning.

  45. Linda says:

    emir, I couldn’t disagree with you more…Courtney has always stuck up for people and held her own ground.

  46. jomama says:

    You people are all crazy…………………..!! and what does Magoun Square have to do with anything… it because Courtney O’Keefe lives there and you are Neidergangers???? Talk about Nazis

  47. marta says:

    I would hope that such a proposal from Olde Magoun would not be considered. First, because I don’t think it should take place in a municipal parking lot, which provides the bulk of the parking for the Square. Also, I have a real problem with promoting the sale of alcohol outdoors. And do I even have to ask why it would need to begin at 9 am?

  48. A.Moore says:

    Marta, we need to use the parking lot so people can’t drive there, drink and then drive home. This wa they will ahve to walk or take public transportataion. 9AM? Night shift workers or early starters.

  49. josie says:

    Good point, A. Moore. The city will basically be sponsoring a beer fest, by allowing it on public property. Does that mean they will be liable for accidents? Where is the Somerville Cares About Prevention group on this, or do they still exist? They seem to be pretty quiet on this kind of thing.

  50. Smitty says:

    Didn’t you know all the politicians have their fundraisers and events at Old Magouns… they have carte blanche with the city. Joe the Entertainer is at it again!!

  51. Ron Newman says:

    Redbones closes off its block of Chester Street a few times a year for events that serve beer — the bicycle festival in June, the Somerville Homeless Coalition pig roast benefit in August, and an Oktoberfest in October.

    They have people who will stop you if you try to take your red beer cup out of the closed-off area.

  52. mom says:

    “Redbones closes off its block of Chester Street”. Chester Street, sir, is a public street. It is not Redbones’ Street. And I disagree with serving alcohol on a public street.

  53. ginger candy says:

    Don’t like something? Don’t understand it? Just make it illegal!

    it’s all a part of the long arm of the law reaching further and further into our lives.
    What kind of demented political structure do we have when one or two disgruntled people who apparently cannot manage to solve the conflicts in their own affairs have the power to make it illegal for you to host a guest in your own home?

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