Walsh pulls Airbnb proposal

Mayor says more time needed to enact regulations

JUST HOURS BEFORE the Boston City Council was set to vote – and likely reject – Mayor Marty Walsh’s proposed ordinance to regulate short-term rentals such as those listed on Airbnb, he withdrew his bill and said he’d come up with another “in the coming weeks.”

“During a robust process, including s public hearing and two working sessions, important and complex questions were raised,” Walsh wrote in his letter to the council filed Wednesday morning. “Members of the City Council and I agree that more time is necessary to ensure we enact the best and most-effective policy and regulation regarding short-term rentals in Boston.”

Walsh had filed his bill in January after more than two years of discussion and study. His measure would have required people who rent their houses or apartments on Airbnb and other home-sharing platforms to register in one of three tiers, from residential owners who rent out a single room or their primary residence, to investors who have multiple units. Walsh’s plan would have limited rentals of all but single rooms to a maximum of 90 days a year.

But City Councilor Michelle Wu had filed an amendment on Monday, which was to be taken up today, that would have eliminated investors, capping the number of rentals to three units in a multi-family home, and only allowed hosts to rent out or list one unit at a time.

By statute, the council had to act on Walsh’s bill by today, 60 days after it was filed, or it would have become law. Most officials expected the council to reject it “without prejudice,” which would have forced Walsh to refile it. But it was unclear whether Wu’s amendment would have been substituted.

Wu said Walsh’s decision was the right way to go to be able to come up with an ordinance that was more agreeable to everyone.

“After many productive conversations, it’s clear that the City Council, the Administration, residents and advocates share the same goal for creating short-term rental policy: stabilizing our neighborhoods by closing loopholes for de facto hotels while preserving the benefits of home-sharing for residents,” she said in a statement. “As we hone in on finalizing the details, I’m looking forward to making a collaborative, quick push to get this done.”

The withdrawal maintains the status quo, meaning there is little to prevent apartment, condo, and homeowners from continuing to rent out their units while the city continues to receive no benefit. Several years ago, the city’s Inspectional Services Department issued a notice to its employees not to enforce regulations that could limit those rental units and that order remains in effect.

A spokeswoman for Walsh said the mayor is still adamant about enacting regulations for an industry he says is having a negative impact on the city’s housing stock.

“Thoughtful regulation of short-term rentals is part of Mayor Walsh’s comprehensive, multi-year effort to preserve housing affordability, prevent displacement and protect the quality of life in our neighborhoods,” Nicole Caravella said in an emailed statement.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

The state also has been lagging in regulating short-term rentals but the House will finally take up a bill Wednesday that requires registration, insurance coverage, and data collection as well as levy occupancy tax at the state level and also allows communities to set excise tax.

Under the House bill, which is opposed by Airbnb despite the company’s earlier support for a measure to add taxes, residential hosts who have one or two units would collect 4 percent room tax from renters; investor hosts, defined as those who own three to five units, would pay the state 5.7 percent occupancy tax they collect from renters, the same tax as hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts; professionally managed hosts, who own or run six or more units, would charge 8 percent. At the local level, the amounts could go to 5 percent, 6 percent, and 10 percent respectively.