Wu seeks to limit short-term rentals

Amendment to Walsh plan would ban commercial units from Airbnb

BOSTON CITY COUNCILOR MICHELLE WU filed an amendment Monday to the mayor’s proposed ordinance on short-term rentals that would bar investors from purchasing properties and renting them out on platforms such as Airbnb.

Wu’s amendment to Mayor Marty Walsh’s plan would also require people who register their home as a short-term unit to notify neighbors that they will be renting out the house or apartment to transients.

“Boston needs to act urgently to restrict companies from operating de facto hotels out of our city’s housing stock, which deepens our housing crisis for private profit,” said Wu, whose amendment is being co-sponsored by Councilor Lydia Edwards. Edward’s district includes the North End, where residents have decried the proliferation of Airbnb rentals.

Walsh filed his proposal in January to regulate short-term rentals by creating different tiers of rental hosts and limiting the length of time people could rent out their entire home or housing units they purchased for investment.

When Walsh unveiled his plan, which would allow investors to rent out units for up to 90 days a year in an effort to “disincentivize” commercial investment, Wu pointed out that the proposal would still let owners rent units 45 weekends a year, enough to make the purchase profitable and keep the apartment off the housing market.

Under the Wu and Edwards amendment, investment units would no longer be allowed under the short-term rental ordinance. Owners of multi-family homes of three units or less who live in the houses could rent out either their own apartment or another unit in the building but could only rent and list one at a time.

CommonWealth ran a story in January on the spread of commercial short-term rentals, primarily listed on Airbnb. Neighborhood and tenant advocates said a number of buildings in neighborhoods such as the North End and Chinatown were being bought and converted into short-term rental hotels.

The council has until Wednesday to take action on Walsh’s measure. If the council fails to act, the proposal automatically becomes law. The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Wu’s amendment also comes as the Legislature appears to finally be taking action on regulating short-term rentals. The House this week plans on taking up a bill originally filed by state Rep. Aaron Michlewitz and rewritten by the Ways and Means Committee. The measure largely is a revenue bill that would levy fees and taxes on short-term rentals, mandates minimum insurance coverage levels, and requires registration and data reporting.

Under the state measure, rental hosts would be classified by three tiers, including residential, which is less than three units; investor hosts, who offer three to five units; and professionally managed hosts who operate six or more units.

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.

Michlewitz said the proposal would not restrict communities form further regulating short-term rentals, either by expanding or limiting the definitions.

“We’re empowering cities and towns to determine how best to regulate the market,” said Michlewitz, a North End resident. “What’s good for Boston isn’t necessarily good for the Cape. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution.”