Real Estate Today: As City looks at Airbnb rules, JP homeowners cash in

As the City of Boston considers regulating short-term rental services such as Airbnb.com, scores of Jamaica Plain homeowners are cashing in. And local hotels say they aren’t worried about the competition.

Airbnb acts as an online host where travelers can connect with homeowners renting out anything from a couch to an entire house. This week, there were 146 Airbnb rentals available in JP, from a $20 per night bedroom in Hyde/Jackson, to a $135 per night studio apartment in the JP Green House on Catherine Street, to a $580 per night four-bedroom house in Central JP.

Such spaces effectively act like a hotel without any of the safety regulations or taxation that cover commercial hotels. They appear to be legal under existing codes if there is no food service and there are fewer than four unrelated tenants.

The Licensing Board for the City of Boston regulates hotels, and “does not have the authority” to regulate Airbnb type services now, according to board Chair Nicole Murati Ferrer. But, she said, Airbnb should be regulated in some respect.

The City’s Inspectional Services Department is considering possible regulations, with no specific timeline for a decision, according to spokesperson Lisa Timberlake. She said the Airbnb is “fairly new,” and that while ISD is working on developing regulations, it “doesn’t quite know where to put them.”

“We don’t know what permits will be needed or if we’ll even go down that route,” she said.

“Home sharing helps countless people pay their bills and make ends meet and brings travelers to neighborhoods that haven’t benefited from tourism in the past,” Airbnb spokesperson Marie Aberger told the Gazette in an email. “We are committed to working with policymakers around the world to advocate for fair, progressive rules that allow regular people to share the home in which they live.”

Airbnb host and JP resident Meghan Wood told the Gazette she’s a “hostess by nature” who enjoys the guests as well as their cash. Wood rents her “comfy room in the hills of JP” for $89 per night.

She said she enjoys “meeting dynamic people, participating in a new economic model, being an early adopter and earning money all the while. For me, it has been a social windfall. My price point isn’t going to make me a millionaire nor will I be able to stop working, but it’s a nice boost in cash.”

Kristina, a JP resident who asked that her last name not be published for privacy reasons, rents a 400-square-foot studio in her Sumner Hill home for $135 per night. She told the Gazette that hosting and meeting people from all over the world “has been a great experience.”

She said that her family applies the income toward the cost of educating their two children.

Meanwhile, JP’s licensed commercial operators—the Taylor House Bed and Breakfast on Burroughs Street and the EnVision Hotel Boston on S. Huntington Avenue—say that Airbnb doesn’t impact them.

Taylor House owner Dave Elliott said he even advertised his B&B on Airbnb for about six months, but got no bookings that way. The huge availability of Airbnb spaces in JP has not impacted his business at all, he said.

“It’s a whole different clientele,” he said, without specifying any differences.

The lowest Taylor House room rates are in the range of $169 to $339 per night.

Likewise, EnVision Hotel Director of Sales Tanner Tinsoe, director of sales at the EnVision Hotel, told the Gazette that Airbnb has not impacted his bookings “at all.”

“We would only expect to see an impact [on bookings] if another hotel came into town,” he said. “Our niches don’t overlap almost at all.”

The lowest advertised room rate at EnVision this week was $269 a night.

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