By SCOTT JACKSON
City councillors on Monday approved a change to the city’s zoning code that prohibits short-term rentals within Residence A neighborhoods, doubling down on legislation approved earlier this year that did the same thing.
Councillors in March had passed an ordinance to regulate short-term rentals – defined as a rental of up to 31 days, such as those offered through companies like Airbnb and Vrbo – that requires operators of such properties to register with the city’s Inspectional Services Department. That ordinance prohibits short-term rentals within parts of the city zoned as Residence A, where only single-family homes are allowed by-right, by making ineligible to register with the city.
On Monday, councillors approved a change to the city’s zoning code – sponsored by Mayor Thomas Koch and Councillors Charlies Phelan Jr. and William Harris – that adds a new category in the table of uses for short-term rentals. The table of uses shows short-term rentals are prohibited in Residence A and allowed by special permit by the city’s zoning administrator – the head of the Inspectional Services Department – in all other districts.
Stephen Durkin, an assistant city solicitor, said the change approved Monday’s further clarifies the prohibition of short-term rentals in single-family neighborhoods.
“It makes clear that the City Council is prohibiting short-term residential rentals in Residence A districts,” he said. “That just further clarifies this issue.”
Councillors approved the proposed amendment to the zoning code in an 8-1 vote. Ward 4 Councillor Brian Palmucci voted against the change.
Palmucci said he was concerned prohibiting short-term rentals in Residence A districts would hurt homeowners financially. He said a survey of Airbnb operators in Massachusetts conducted by the company found 49 percent of operators used the money they get from renting their properties to make ends meet, 66 percent of operators said the money they earn from the company has allowed them to stay in their homes during difficult times, and 14 percent said the income let them stave off foreclosure.
“Without knowing where the properties are, without specifically mailing the people who are most impacted by this, I don’t feel comfortable voting in support of the measure,” Palmucci said.
“I fully commend Councillor Phelan and Councillor Harris for taking up the cause. I don’t have the same issues that they have where there are particular properties that are problematic. I certainly don’t speak negatively about them – I think they have to do what they do to protect the neighborhood, and I commend them for that, but for me, I’m just not comfortable at this point voting in favor of it.”
Phelan, the Ward 5 councillor, said the city needs to protect Residence A neighborhoods.
“We can either have the neighborhoods, have these great neighborhoods that are the backbone of our city, or we can just have the Wild West and people come in and they rent out their house and you don’t know who the person is next to you and get all the problems we have with that,” Phelan said.
“We have problems in Ward 5 where people rented them to college students. Right in the middle of the pandemic, 125 people at a house party. Police had to come and break it up.”
When operators purchase homes in single-family neighborhoods to rent out on a short-term basis, it makes it harder for families to buy such houses, Phelan added.
“It is also an affordable housing issue,” he said. “They drive up the cost of the housing.”
Harris, the Ward 6 councillor, said operators of short-term rentals are looking to make a profit, not simply make ends meet.
“I’m sorry to disagree with you, Councillor Palmucci. In the most part, I don’t think this is about paying bills,” Harris said. “It’s a bad situation, especially in Residence A.”