Forty-five cities (and counting) taking steps to regulate short-term rentals

Here is a list of jurisdictions that have either recently taken steps to regulate short-term rentals or are more proactively enforcing their existing regulations. In most instances, the steps have been taken in response to the increasing popularity of Airbnb, but the changes affect or will affect other short-term rental services as well. Some cities are trying to make it easier for their residents to offer short-term rentals, but in most cases the intention seems to be to create more precise definitions of “short-term rental,” to implement oversight measures, such as inspections, registries or complaint mechanisms, and/or to find ways of collecting sales or lodging taxes on transactions that have so far escaped the taxes that hotels and bed-and-breakfast operators pay. I’m not in a position to judge the efficacy or fairness of these various regulatory actions; I just think it’s useful to have some kind of list and summaries of steps taken. Some politicians and city officials have specifically mentioned being motivated to act by the desire to preserve affordable housing stock for residents (as is the case in New York, San Francisco, Portland, Amsterdam, Paris and Berlin), which I think is an important and valid concern.

I’ve referred to “cities” in the title because that’s typically the level of government involved, but in a minority of cases it’s county, state or provinces that have taken action.

The list is not comprehensive, but it’s more complete than most others I’ve found so far. Many jurisdictions have taken some kind of regulatory action just in the last few months. Things are changing rapidly, so I may not be able to keep the list up to date. The summaries I’ve provided don’t necessarily mention every aspect of the regulatory steps a given jurisdiction has taken. They are paraphrased from the linked media stories and should be taken as a starting place for further research and verification by those interested. I’m happy to receive corrections and suggested additions.

Please also see my timeline for similar info in a different format.

U.S. (Alphabetically by city)

1. Ashland: Ashland hired an inspector/enforcement officer in late 2013 to crack down on illegal short-term rentals. As of April 2014, he had been in touch with about 200 properties. The officer explains the rules, and in some cases issues 10-day cease and desist letters or imposes fines. He finds some illegal properties by searching website and is notified of others by local residents.

2. Aspen: As of March 2012, the city estimated it was losing about $100,000 per year in foregone sales tax (11.3%) and licensing fees. It legalized short-term rentals for those willing to buy a licence and pay taxes. It also required hosts to designate a local person to respond to any complaints or property-related issues. Aspen also has a housing authority that provides deed-restricted housing that is meant to be affordable for those in the city’s workforce. Short-term rentals are not allowed in the deed-restricted housing.

3. Auburn: As of October 2014, the city was at work on an ordinance that would require a $57 licensing fee. Homeowners who want to operate a legal short-term rental would need their neighbours’ approval, though if denied approval, the prospective host could appeal to the city’s planning commission (at a cost of $481).

4. Austin: The city has required registration of STRs since October 1, 2012. Amendments to Austin’s STR program took effect on January 1, 2014. See the ordinance here. The city created three different types of short-term rentals (1, 2 and 3). The fee is $235, plus a $50 fee for first-time registrants, which is to cover notifying neighbours. Prospective hosts must provide a certificate of occupancy or certified inspection, as well as proof of insurance and payment of hotel occupancy tax, if applicable.The city limits the number of type 2 and 3 properties by census tract and in each building (no more than 3% of units in a building).

5. Boston: Mayor Martin Walsh has instructed city inspectors not to fine local Airbnb hosts, but city councillor Sal LaMattina has put forward a motion asking for a hearing on short-term rental regulations. The public meeting is scheduled for January 26, 2014.

6. Boulder: In early January, the city’s zoning enforcement office responded to complaints by warning 20 property owners who were illegally renting their properties on a short-term basis. The city had received numerous complaints about the zoning breaches from one resident. Staff are to propose options, including sticking with the status quo, to council in the first quarter of 2015.

7. Chicago: In November 2014, the city’s budget director proposed a new initiative to collect the city’s 4.5 percent hotel tax on short-term rentals that don’t currently pay it. In January, the Washington Post reported that Airbnb would begin collecting taxes on nightly stays in Chicago as of Feb. 15.

8. Grand Rapids: The city began licensing single-room short-term rentals, subject to various restrictions, in October 2014. According to a November 13 media report, the city had received only four licence applications at that time, although there were about 70 Grand Rapids listings on Airbnb.

9. Greenport, Suffolk County (New York) Greenport’s code committee discussed short-term rental regulations in January 2015, but decided to consult the public before drafting any new rules, which it hopes to begin in April.

10. Los Angeles: In December 2014, council directed staff to research the city’s regulatory options by looking at the Portland and San Francisco models and to come back to it with recommendations. Earlier in the year, council directed staff to contact the city’s Airbnb hosts and inform them of their obligation to collect the state’s 14 percent transient occupancy tax, which applies to rentals of less than one month.

11. Madison: Council voted to regulate short-term rentals in October 2013. The ordinance states that only homeowners can legally offer short-term rentals and that short-term rentals should not be closer than 500 feet. Hosts who obtain a permit can rent out their primary residence for as many as 30 days a year while they are not present. The limit doesn’t apply if the host is present. The city is generally adopting the same approach for short-term rentals as applies to “tourist rooming houses” at the state level. This means an inspection is required before a permit can be approved. Ordinance here. (pdf)

12. Malibu: In an effort to ensure that short-term rentals pay the city the 12 percent transient occupancy tax, in May 2014, Malibu council agreed to subpoena information from various short-term rental services. ““The main purpose of this is to be able to control and make sure that people who rent out their homes are not adversely affecting our neighborhoods,’ says Laura Rosenthal, Malibu council member.”

13. Massachusetts: In January 2015, two Democratic congress reps for Boston (Aaron Michlewitz and RoseLee Vincent) introduced legislation to regulate short-term rentals at the state, rather than city, level. The details of the proposal are similar to legislation recently passed by the City of San Francisco. Hosts would have to register with the Department of Housing and Community Development and pay the same 5% tax that hotels are subject to, which funds tourism activities.

The bill would also allow cities and towns to collect additional excise taxes beyond the State’s 5% requirement, similar to the Boston hotel tax. Cities would also obtain the power to limit short-term rentals to an owner’s primary residence, thus prohibiting renters from sub-leasing to short-term rental services. Fines for non-compliance with the proposed regulations could be as high as $1,000 per day.

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Are Online Vacation Renters Displacing Vancouverites?

My story on how short-term rentals, as facilitated Airbnb and similar web tools, affect the supply of long-term rental housing in Vancouver appeared in The Tyee on June 27. Read all about it here: Are Online Vacation Renters Displacing Vancouverites?

I was pleased to see follow-up coverage by CBC Radio and TV. BC Almanac did a segment July 5, which covered much of the same ground as my story, though focused more on the lack of lodging taxes paid in these transactions.

Then on July 6, CBC TV did a 2-minute news segment. It’s great to see this, though I note that they interviewed a Yaletown resident who rents out the second bedroom in his condo. From a safety and security point of view, that sort of short-term rental is not really the issue, since the host will often be present when the guest is there and that does a lot to mitigate concerns and risks.

More to my point, I would argue that renting out a spare room (or an entire apartment or home while the usual resident is away) has a fairly minimal effect on the supply of rental housing that’s available to actual Vancouver residents. It’s true that that second bedroom could be housing a local resident instead of a tourist and we certainly need all the affordable housing we can get in Vancouver. But I think policy-makers should be much more concerned about the many entire apartments, condos and secondary suites and houses that are being rented to tourists (at higher rates and without the oversight of the Residential Tenancy Act) instead of adding to the city’s woefully inadequate and aging rental housing stock.

I also don’t know, but would like to, where CBC TV got the figure of 3,000 rooms available for short-term rental to tourists.

Elsewhere, Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs elaborated on the comments of his I included in my story on his own blog. And a Gabriola blogger chipped in here.