Council, home-sharing services battle over legislation
Argue whether residents need income to survive
City lawmakers and the home-sharing industry traded barbs Wednesday over a bill that would set up a regulatory framework for residents who rent properties for short-term stays via services like Airbnb.
“Sensible, reasonable regulation is not the enemy of innovation,” D.C. Council member Kenyon McDuffie, who introduced the legislation, said at a public hearing.
AirBnB and other home-sharing operations took issue with the legislation, saying that while they support some regulation, the standards set in the McDuffie bill would prevent many short-term renters from making enough money to get by.
“Home sharing has been a lifeline for many users,” William Burns, AirBnB senior adviser and a former Chicago alderman, said at the hearing. “[AirBnB] wants to be regulated — fairly, reasonably, and in a way that allows D.C. families to share their homes to make ends meet.”
Mr. McDuffie and supporters of his bill say some people using those services aren’t struggling to get by and are taking advantage of an unregulated market.
The Ward 5 Democrat has the backing of the hotel industry and local social justice groups that said some bad actors use services like AirBnB as a commercial venture, buying up several properties and renting them out at high prices.
“I see investors buying three or more homes and converting them into full-time AirBnB homes,” said Valerie Ervin of the D.C. Working Families Party. “They’re treating rent-controlled apartments like hotel rooms.”
Most council members at the hearing agreed that there should be some regulation, but that it would take some work to make sure everyone is taken care of.
“We have to figure out how we can regulate short term rentals in a way that makes sense for the city,” said Robert White, at-large Democrat.
Under current law, short-term rental hosts are required to obtain a business license like that for hotels and other hospitality enterprises. AirBnB said it does not check whether its hosts comply with local permitting or zoning laws in any jurisdiction.
The McDuffie legislation — the Short Term Rental Regulation and Affordable Housing Protection Act — would create a license specifically for short-term rentals. Hosts would be required to live at their rental properties or be present during the short-term stays, and no host could register more than one property for rent.
AirBnB proposed that it would be comfortable limiting the number of property listings to three per host.
The bill does offer some relief for its on-property requirement: Owners could rent their units as “vacation rentals” for up to 15 nights per year without being present on the properties. Mr. McDuffie said he is open to increasing the number of days to 25 for vacation rentals.
Violators would face fines from $1,000 to $7,000. Half of the fine collections will go to the city’s general fund; the other half to the District’s Housing Production Trust Fund.
Residents on both sides of the argument came out in droves to testify Wednesday before the council.
“This bill would strangle the ability of D.C. residents — many of whom are simply seeking to earn small fractions of extra income by using their biggest asset — to participate in the growth of the District’s burgeoning tourism industry,” said Cathy Cook, an Airbnb host and Ward 2 homeowner.