City considers establishing AirBnb apartments task force

On October 4, 2017, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

By Jim Clark

An order was put before the Somerville Board of Alderman and passed at their latest regular meeting last week, seeking to instruct the Superintendent of Inspectional Services to form a task force to address AirBnB apartments.

A number of ongoing issues regarding enforcement of regulations and the handling of consumer complaints have left a number of city officials frustrated with the protracted length of time associated with making progress on the matter.

Speaking in favor of the order, Ward 1 Alderman Matthew McLaughlin told the Board, “We are well aware of this issue. We’ve had numerous reports, I work with ISD [Inspectional Services Department] all the time targeting these bad properties with AirBnBs.”

McLaughlin pointed out that the City of Cambridge and the state of Massachusetts have been working on laws for regulation and he felt that Somerville should be doing the same.

“Until then, I’d like to think about this task force,” McLaughlin said. “I understand how difficult it is, because the change in technology has made things difficult, but it has also made it easy to find out where the AirBnBs are.”

According to McLaughlin, one simply has to go on a website to target them, then the established task force can follow up to investigate. “They can pose as a customer and go there and just issue a fine.”

McLaughlin reported that he got some “push back” from people with owner-occupied units who want their AirBnBs to help them pay own rents or for when they go away for the summer and wish to take advantage of AirBnB rental opportunities.

“I know what the city and what myself intends is not to address owner-occupied units,” said McLaughlin. “It’s these units that have basically become hotels. They don’t have long term residents in them at all. And it raises the rent for everyone in the city, and it makes one less unit for someone to rent and own and live in.”

Ward 5 Alderman Mark Niedergang weighed in on the issue saying, “I’m not against forming a task force, but I think there are some other things that need to happen. And I thought they were going to happen.”

Niedergang referred to existing law that he said was not being enforced by Inspectional Services and that doing so would be an important step. “And/or we need to pass an ordinance that’s a better one than the one that we have, which is what I think we should do.”

Niedergang mentioned that Alderman At-Large Jack Connolly has dealt with this matter in the public Health and Safety Committee that a lot of productive ideas have been brought forward, but said that no specific ordinance had yet been created. He further stated that the current law is not be enforced well.

Connolly responded that he has been working with members of the administration on some detailed analysis of the issue. “We are assembling some information and rough draft language,” he said. “I’m going to be planning a public session for everybody involved.”

McLaughlin followed up by stating his belief that ISD is trying to enforce the current law. “I just think the easiest path is to go on the website, ID the spots and just keep ticketing them that way.”




8 Responses to “City considers establishing AirBnb apartments task force”

  1. Matt C says:

    Why would we be trying to do this on our own, as a city, we should be working to be part of any state initiative on how to monitor and manage. Trying to do it on our own is not going to be effective long term.

    If nothing else partner with the city of Cambridge (all the while imagining that we have the same kind of tax base and budge flexibility they they have and we most certainly don’t).

  2. joe says:

    I haven’t heard a good argument for laws against AirBnB and the like. The two arguments seem to be “It’s an unregulated hotel” (well, no it’s not a hotel actually, and why should it be regulated?) and “It’s driving up rent” (evidence is weak, but even if true how this would imply it’s just to tell an owner what to do with his/her property.). Moreover these arguments seem to be made mainly be people with skin in the game (hotel lobbyists and renters).

    I’m in favor of letting the market be. As long as these owners are paying tax on the income and taking responsibility for enforcement of noise/trash ordinances etc, then I don’t see a problem.

  3. Suzie says:

    I don’t think we need a task force, or some meetings, which will only drag out our ability to reach a solution. I’m very tired of not being able to find parking on my quiet street, with cars out of state plates parking for sometimes close to a week, cars I’ve never seen before coming and going for days at a time, and different people coming and going constantly from specific homes. I also don’t think it matters if the unit is owner-occupied, they should be regulated, publicized, and taxed as lodging houses/hotels. We already know they are breaking existing law in the city, and they are also abusing ‘residential’ guest passes, which other businesses get by paying a premium price, and legitimate residents are paying dearly for. Unfortunately it may not be as easy as it seems to find them, unless AirBnB is willing to help. Until you actually agree to rent a property you are not given the actual address of the property. You are only given the area in which it is. Perhaps a hotline where residents can phone in addresses they think might have been turned into rental units?

  4. Matt says:

    I am not a renter, but a homeowner of a two-family. I charge less than market rate for my apartment, yet receive no consideration, no perks, no breaks. Yet people all over the city are running illegal hotels (yes, hotels. “…an establishment that provides lodging and usually meals, entertainment, and various personal services for the public :inn”. I get your argument about doing what you want with your property, but there are lots of limits on that. I can’t sell used cars from my driveway without a license, I can’t set up a beauty shop for the public in my house without a license, etc. How do we know they are paying tax on the income? And many are not accountable to trash, noise, and parking ordinances. If they’re going to do it they just need to do it legally, their neighbors need to be aware of it, and they need to pay the appropriate fees for their business.

  5. CAP says:

    The individuals who offer up a spare room to the occasional traveler provide a great and useful service. Then there are the people who exploit the system and create rooming house businesses for themselves out of the same model. (And if you have ever shopped for AirBnB rooms somewhere, you know it can be pretty easy to tell who is who.)

    There should be a way to discourage the de facto hotels, without harming the original good intent of the concept. Being unkind to the visitors or the person with the spare room is not the answer, it’s regulating the profiteers who exploit the model.

  6. Old Taxpayer says:

    There is not good intent for the airbib service. It’s no different than Uber and taxi service. One has to pay all the fees and regulations and have the higher costs while the other providing the same service does not have to. You are not letting businesses work on a level playing field and that is very wrong.

  7. Gage says:

    Ask Neidergang how much money he makes from using his houses as Air BnB’s

  8. ritepride says:

    BIG PROBLEM! ! ! Beware of operating an Air BnB. You could end up with squatters and the time and disruption to your life to resolve the issue would be co$tly.

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