Editorial: A little Airbnb regulation is a good thing

  • An Airbnb logo. BLOOMBERG/Waldo Swiegers

Published: 1/9/2019 12:01:12 AM

Airbnb and other short-term rental sites like VRBO and HomeAway are popular in the Pioneer Valley, but so far, since all private owners have had to do is list their space on the internet, they have operated with little oversight.

Now, regulation has come to this cottage industry. The law signed by Gov. Charlie Baker in December will require owners to register with the state, carry insurance and pay state lodging taxes as of July 1.

“Airbnbs will be coming out of the shadows, so to speak,” Craig Della Penna, who owns the Sugar Maple Trailside Inn in Florence, told Gazette reporter Scott Merzbach (“State’s short-term rental rules put Airbnb, bed and breakfasts on similar footing,” Jan. 7, 2019).

There are 330 active hosts on Airbnb in Hampshire County, according to the company — a number that has grown from 220 hosts in 2016 and 280 in 2017. In 2018, 25,400 guests stayed at these properties, making approximately $3 million. There are about 15,700 hosts in Massachusetts, Airbnb said.

The state law is a reasonable way to bring this industry into the sunlight and offer consumers assurances the rentals they stay in are safe, making them comply with local health and safety codes. As we opined in April 2018, “older, substandard housing without two exits does exist and a fire blocking the only exit is a recipe for tragedy that is the stuff of nightmares for firefighters. House fires, food safety and sanitation issues are the pitfalls of unregulated short-term housing.”

These regulations will level the playing field for other lodging, including hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts, which already comply with a slew of state laws and inspections and pay state taxes.

“We’re doing what should be done if you’re a professional innkeeper,” said Joan Stoia, operator of The Centennial House in Northfield.

Prompted by the state law, Northampton and Amherst said they are already working on folding these short-term rentals into the infrastructure for lodging inspections.

The state law smartly allows municipalities to further regulate these rentals, including capping the number of rentals or how long people can stay, and adding more taxes to short-term rentals where the operator doesn’t live on-site and rent out two or more rooms at a time.

Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz said he’s interested in learning more about one aspect of the law that could mitigate the effect short-term rentals have had on the housing market, driving up rents and limiting rental options.

“One of the impacts of room-sharing has been the impact on the availability of long-term rental units,” Narkewicz said.

Two Airbnb hosts told the Gazette they were concerned about the licensing and inspection aspects of the new law, and towns should be be willing to work with hosts to make the process accessible. Enhancing transparency and accountability around short-term rentals is good for everyone.

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