Hearing Set to Organize STR Regulation Effort

By Sam Tarr

December 2019

Once again, the city has restructured their effort to regulate short-term rental properties Wednesday, as Boston City Councilors, Lydia Edwards and Mark Ciommo, called for a hearing to discuss the Boston Planning and Development Agency’s (BPDA) potential obligations.

“In the back and forth on the short-term rentals or any issue,” Edwards said,” it’s really the ability to find common ground and common questions.”

Mayor Martin J. Walsh withdrew his administration’s January proposal to begin regulating short-term rentals, like the ones made popular on platforms like Airbnb, the week before.

In a letter read at the March 21 meeting, Walsh said his office and the council agreed that more time was needed to make the “best and most effective policy and regulations.”

Edwards and Ciommo look to answer some of the “important and complex questions,” that Walsh said were raised during the hearing process.

“I want to ensure we’re on the same page with the BDPA and with developers,” Ciommo said, “that they’re not setting aside units or assuring investors that they’re including short-term rentals before we actually come up with some regulations around that.”

Ciommo referenced the Mayor’s goal of 53,000 units in the city by 2030. Ciommo called for a separate category for short-term rental properties that would not be included in the 53,000-unit goal.

Ciommo also expressed concern about BPDA’s approval process when considering developments with proposed short-term rental properties. 

“We want to make sure,” Edwards said, “that when we are getting to the aggressive goal of 53,000 units, that they are actually used for their intended goal, which is to house Bostonians.”

Edwards raised questions about the possibility of the BPDA using its regulatory power to hold developers and their prospective properties to their “intended goal.”

Edwards said that one of the things this hearing was going to explore was the possibility for regulatory actions by the BPDA when a property that was built to rent long-term or own, is found to be used for short-term rentals.

Though the city officials have pumped the brakes on its efforts to regulate short-term rentals in the city, the MA Legislature is moving forward.

Both the MA Senate and House have both put bills forward to impose taxes on short-term rental platforms, which resemble other hospitality and hotel taxes. In a letter sent to House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Rep. Aaron Michlewitz (D-Boston) and Rep. Jeffery Sanchez (D-Boston), the City Council thanked them for their efforts but urged for more “local flexibility” and control.

As it stands, the Senate is set to vote on its version of a bill as soon as this week. Walsh looks to file another proposal in the coming weeks, as the City Council continues to chip away at an issue that seems to present more questions than answers.

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