Airbnbs on the rise; concerns remain over lack of regulation, taxes

  • Virginia Hoener cleans and turns over her Airbnb on Pine street in Florence.

  • Virginia Hoener cleans and turns over her Airbnb on Pine street in Florence.

  • Virginia Hoener cleans and turns over her Airbnb on Pine street in Florence.

  • Virginia Hoener turns off the heater in one of the rooms of her Airbnb on Pine street in Florence.

  • Virginia Hoener looks over her upcoming reservations after cleaning and turning over her Airbnb on Westhampton Rd.

  • Virginia Hoener cleans and turns over her Airbnb on Pine Street in Florence. GAZETTE PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

@BeraDunau
Published: 2/10/2018 12:02:54 AM

NORTHAMPTON — The presence of Airbnbs is growing in Hampshire County while state regulations for the popular, short-term rental housing have yet to materialize.

One of the new Airbnb hosts who entered the market last year was Virginia Hoener, who was preparing a farmhouse on Route 66 in Florence for her son to live in. When his plans changed, the Florence landlord decided to rent it out on Airbnb this year.

The three-bedroom house comes equipped with a deck and a hot tub.

“People have parties there,” she said. “You never know what you’re going to find.”

According to Airbnb, the number of hosts in Hampshire County is estimated to have grown from 220 in 2016 to 280 in 2017. Many of those hosts are located in Northampton, which grew from 120 to about 150 during this time period. Easthampton, by contrast, only has about 30 hosts, although this is a 50 percent increase from the approximately 20 it had in 2016.

Statewide, there were some 144,000 Airbnb hosts in 2017, up from estimated 112,000 in 2016.

The premise of San Francisco-based Airbnb is simple. Through its website, the company facilitates the renting of rooms, apartments and houses on a short-term basis. It has hosts around the country and the world, and is often used as an alternative to traditional bed-and-breakfasts and hotels.

Barbara Bricker is another new Airbnb proprietor in Hampshire County.

Bricker, who lives in a cabin on Damon Pond in Chesterfield, bought a home in Williamsburg last year with the idea of living in it year-round in the future.

She was prepared to sell her cabin to buy the Williamsburg property, but decided to try Airbnb so she could manage owning both properties.

The 71-year-old retiree chose to rent the Williamsburg house on Airbnb from April 1 through Thanksgiving, living there in the winter months. The plan worked. Bricker said 31 guests signed up through Airbnb, which has allowed her to pay the mortgage for each one of the months she rented it out. However, she said she won’t know if the arrangement is truly working until she sees her taxes for this year.

Hoener, the Florence landlord, has had equal success with Airbnb. In addition to the farmhouse, she began renting out an apartment that’s attached to her home this year after the tenant moved out.

“I hit the ground running,” she said.

Hoener said that she has received more than 100 reservations, and that May through August are her busiest months.

Hoener has used Airbnb herself when traveling, and her son is using the service now as he travels in Africa.

While she owns other properties in Northampton, Easthampton and Holyoke, Hoener said she has no interest in turning any of them into Airbnbs at this time. She also said that she is not interested in removing tenants to transform units into new Airbnbs.

Bricker said that most of her rentals have been for weekends, while Hoener said that a number of people who used her Airbnbs have told her that they vacation in Northampton every summer.

“I’m like, ‘Why?’” said Hoener, who grew up in the Pioneer Valley.

Hoener charges $125 a night for renting the farmhouse, while Bricker charges $135 for renting her Willamsburg house.

Unregulated, untaxed

Airbnb and other short-term rentals in Massachusetts are not subject to state or local taxes, and remain unregulated by the state. Airbnb has asked that short-term rentals be taxed.

“In terms of tax collection, we’ve always advocated to pay our fair share in taxes across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” wrote Airbnb spokeswoman Crystal Davis in an email.

State Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, said regulations add credibility to the industry, and “they want reasonable regulation.”

The Legislature has been mulling proposed regulations for two years, with the Senate passing bills that would tax and regulate them.

“Once in the budget and once in the economic development bill,” Rosenberg said.

Both in 2016 and 2017, however, the House chose not to vote on the measures.

“The House wasn’t ready to deal with it,” Rosenberg said.

This year, however, Rosenberg said that it looks like a regulatory bill will make it out of committee in the House.

He said that exact details will need to be worked out, and the Senate will advocate for a strong local control. The senator is optimistic that a bill will pass both houses by the end of the current legislative sessions on July 31.

Rosenberg feels the matter is one of fairness. “Airbnbs are actually competing now with hotels and motels,” he said.

The bills that have passed the Senate would apply the state’s room occupancy tax to short-term rentals, and would give local governments the option of leveling local taxes on them as well.

Bed-and-breakfasts

Bed-and-breakfast proprietor Craig Della Penna expressed displeasure at the unregulated nature of Airbnb rentals, and noted that he had gotten sick from mold in one in New York City.

“There’s no rules,” he said.

Della Penna owns Sugar Maple Trailside Inn in Florence. He said that people from outside of town are buying houses in Northampton and renting them out as Airbnbs. He also said that they weren’t really competition for his business, but favors taxing them.

“That would be great,” he said, saying that it would take them “out of the shadows.”

Della Penna is also a real estate agent, and he said that he gets several clients every year from his bed-and-breakfast business.

Judi Bogart, who owns Upland Meadows Farm Bed & Breakfast in Cummington, has never been on the Airbnb website and doesn’t know if there are any in her town. However, she said that she did not believe the site has affected her business.

“I’m always turning people away,” she said. “Because I’m booked.”

Bogart did say, however, that her bed-and-breakfast being small might have something to do with this.

She did note that the number of bed-and-breakfasts in the Hampshire Hills Bed and Breakfast Association has gone down, but said that people leaving the business was a result of factors like age, illness and loss of interest, rather than being put out of business.

Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz said that the city has been looking to state government on the Airbnb issue.

“We’ve been waiting for the commonwealth,” he said.

He also noted that Airbnb doesn’t fit in with what has been traditionally inspected by the city, and that the city does not currently inspect Airbnb rentals.

Narkewicz said that there are no plans at this time to move forward with local regulations on Airbnbs independent of state regulations.

Both Hoener and Bricker said that they weren’t concerned with the potential of new taxes. Bricker said that she would raise her prices if they came down, while Hoener said that she thought that additional regulations would be fair.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.


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