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In the absence of a state strategy to regulate short-term housing rentals, the Cambridge City Council voted Monday night to require hosts to live in the same or an adjacent building as part of a new set of rules designed to protect the city's scarce affordable housing market.
The new city ordinance would also require hosts who rent units online through sites like Airbnb to register with the city and undergo an inspection once every five years. There are not caps on the number of nights a unit can be rented.
The Massachusetts Lodging Association cheered the passage of the ordinance as a protection against illegal hotels. In some cities with limited and expensive rental housing markets, some public officials have grown increasingly concerned about properties being bought up for the sole purpose of being rented out as an income investment.
"By requiring inspections and insisting that hosts actually occupy the buildings where they rent, Cambridge has recognized true home-sharing while instituting common sense guidelines to ensure the safety of guests and protect the city's housing stock," Paul Sacco, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Lodging Association, said in a statement.
Gov. Charlie Baker has proposed legislation this session to tax short-term rentals based on the number of days in a year the units are rented, while North End Democrat Rep. Aaron Michlewitz has proposed a bill that would also tax units based on rental days, but also impose new safety and insurance regulations.
The Committee on Financial Services, chaired by Michlewitz, held three public hearings on the issue in June in Lenox, Barnstable and Boston, but has not yet recommended a path forward.
Airbnb said nearly 90,000 guests used their listing to rent accommodations in Cambridge over the last year, and spokeswoman Crystal Davis said the company looks forward to working with the state to develop "fair home sharing rules that work best for all communities."
The company expects more cities and towns will want to develop rules that fit their unique characteristics, with the housing markets in a city like Cambridge differing greatly from towns on Cape Cod.
"Last night's vote will allow Cambridge residents to continue reaping the economic benefits Airbnb brings to families who home share to make ends meet," Davis said.
Airbnb does have some concern with the requirement that renters or condo owners get permission from their landlord or condo association before registering with the city, Davis said. The company worries that the process could become too "cumbersome and onerous" for hosts and may prove difficult to standardize for all hosts.
Less than a handful of other communities in Massachusetts, including Salem, Winthrop and Lynnfield, have also passed local laws regulating or banning short-term rentals. The new Cambridge rules take effect in April 2018.