‘More Bureaucracy’ for Airbnb
Josiah Richards and Christopher Benoit have been renting two rooms in their Fitchburg home through the platform Airbnb for about three years. But things may change once state regulations for short-term rentals go into effect in July.
People from 35 states and nine countries have stayed for a couple of days. Typically, the transaction between them and their guests for lodging has been simple.
“It really isn’t the end of the world for us,” Richards said Friday. “It’s just more bureaucracy.”
Under the regulations, short-term rental operators would need to register with the state and their accommodations will be subject to state and local taxes. They will also need to have libaility insurance for at least $1 million.
The law applies to properties that are rented out for at least 15 days during the year. Taxes will apply to the total amount guests pay for their stay, including cleaning, service, and other fees.
Reservations that were made before the beginning of the year will not be subject to the taxes.
“I really appreciate the governor for his effort to bring some control there,” said Fitchburg Mayor Stephen DiNatale. “This kind of levels the playing field.”
State regulations will help provide safety for guests and let the city know how many short-term rentals are operating in the city.
The state will maintain a registry of the street names and municipalities where short-term rentals are located. Cities like San Francisco, Seattle, and New Orleans have regulations for short-term rentals and registries, as do multiple countries.
DiNatale said he is interested in how the state law will be implemented how the city will play a role in registering short-term rentals, which will likely be through the clerk’s office or building department.
The state will also apply the 5.7 percent hotel tax to short-term rentals.
Municipalities can collect up to 6 percent tax and can impose a “community impact fee” up to 3 percent that can be used for affordable housing or infrastructure.
“It’s really a good thing for us,” Westminster Town Administrator Karen Murphy.
Westminster already has the local option for the room tax. There used to be the Wachusett Village Inn, but the town lost that revenue when the hotel became the Recovery Centers of America, she said.
There are at least 50 listings in the North Central Massachusetts area on platforms like Airbnb, Vacation Rentals By Owners, and Home Away. All of them charged more than $15 a night, meaning they weren’t exempt from the state law.
Across the platforms, Ashburnham had the most listings, a majority of which were for entire homes, cabins, or guest suites.
Fitchburg, Leominster, Westminster, Lunenburg, Townsend, and Shirley also had listings for homes, suites, and private rooms.
Airbnb had the most listings for the area and some owners posted their accommodation on multiple platforms.
Last year, Worcester County had about 24,700 guests, which earned hosts a total of $3.4 million, according to the company.
Statewide, there were more than 15,700 Airbnb hosts in 2018 and on average they earn about $7,800 annually for renting rooms or their entire residences, according to Airbnb.
The state law also says municipalities can regulate short-term rentals by ordinance or bylaws, like where they can be located, the number of licenses that can be issued to operate them, and how many days operators can rent out accommodations during the year.
They can also require operators to make sure their properties meet fire, health, housing, or zoning codes and undergo inspections.
“I care more that the Airbnbs don’t have a negative impact on the neighborhood,” said Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella.
In Fitchburg, President and Ward 4 Councilor Michael Kushmerek filed a petition in March to require all short-term rental units to register and have regular inspection to ensure safety.
He proposed safety requirements for any residence or commercial property not already licensed as a hotel, motel, inn, or bed and breakfast that is rented for less than a month.
The properties would need to be up to fire and building code, follow local zoning, have the necessary licenses for business operation, and comply with health code for operations that serve food.
That proposal was held in the Legislative Affairs Committee in May to wait on guidance from the state. It will be before the committee again at its Jan. 29 meeting.
Richards has seen Kushmerek’s proposal and hopes that the city doesn’t go further than state regulations.
He and Benoit want to continue using Airbnb to open their house to guests. They enjoy hosting and have learned new things about the people who have stayed with them.
A map of the United States they have displayed on their wall has a pin marking where their guests come from.
“It’s been an overwhelmingly positive experience,” Richards said.
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