New Short-Term Rental Rules Near Approval

By SCOTT JACKSON

City councillors could approve new rules regulating short-term rentals in Quincy as soon as next week.

Ward 5 Councillor Charles Phelan Jr. introduced the legislation to regulate short-term rentals in September, at which point the item was referred to the ordinance committee. The committee, which includes all nine councillors, unanimously approved a revised version of the ordinance on Monday after two hours of discussion.

A final vote on the bill was not taken that night, however, at the request of Ward 4 Councillor Brian Palmucci, who said he wanted more information about its impact on existing short-term rental operators in the city first. A final vote on the matter could come as soon as the council’s meeting on Jan. 19.

The committee on Monday also approved adopting portions of state law authorizing a local 6 percent excise tax on short-term rentals plus a 3 percent community-impact fee. Those items are also awaiting a final vote.

The committee reviewed the ordinance for the first time in October. During Monday’s meeting, Assistant City Solicitor Stephen Durkin introduced several amendments – all of which were approved – based on feedback from councillors at the earlier session.

The proposed ordinance would regulate short-term rentals, defined as a rental of up to 31 days. The ordinance would apply to short-term rentals offered through companies like Airbnb and Vrbo as well as those offered privately without a broker.

As proposed, the ordinance would prohibit short-term rentals within parts of the city zoned as Residence A, where only single-family homes are allowed by-right. An amendment approved on Monday would also make residential units that are not the operators’ primary residence ineligible to be rented on a short-term basis, though operators can rent out a separate unit located within the same dwelling as their primary residence, for instance one of the units in a two-family home.

“That would exclude what are called professionally managed properties,” Durkin explained.

Palmucci said he found 211 available short-term rentals in Quincy offered through various companies, primarily Airbnb. Of those, 130 are listed on a state-run registry for short-term rentals established by a 2019 law. He was uncertain how many of those 130 are within Residence A neighborhoods because the information he has access to includes only the street name, not a full address.

Without hearing from those property owners who would be impacted, Palmucci said he could not vote in favor of final passage of the legislation but was OK moving it out of committee.

“[I’m] having a hard time voting on legislation that could cost someone their livelihood, especially in these times, without hearing from them directly or knowing the actual impact,” he said.

Palmucci suggested he could be OK with the owner of a home in a Residence A neighborhood renting it out for a couple weeks a year while they are away on vacation – something the ordinance would prohibit as written – while he be more opposed to such a home being rented on a short-term basis year-round by a professional operator.

He added that nearly one-third of the registered short-term rentals in the city are within Ward 4, his ward, but he has received few complaints about them.

Other councillors who spoke during the committee meeting said they have had the opposite experience with short-term rentals in their wards.

Ward 6 Councillor William Harris said the residents he represents were desperate for the new rules to be enacted. He said homes in the ward are being rented for weekend parties, which he likened to college fraternity parties.

“They are doing the wrong thing and we need to stop it,” Harris said. “We need to protect Residence A. We need to protect neighborhoods even if they are not Residence A from this happening, from frat parties taking place where people have lived their whole lives.”

Phelan, the Ward 5 councillor who introduced the ordinance, said police have had to breakup parties inside short-term rentals in his ward, even amid the pandemic. He said the legislation should be approved in the near future.

“I don’t mind if we go a meeting or two just to iron out all the language, but we need to bring this forward before the pandemic is in our rear view mirror – before people start to rent these things,” he said.

Palmucci said the problematic rentals his colleagues spoke of are unlikely to be the ones who are registered with the state. Because state law requires they be registered, he said the city could shut them down today.

In addition to prohibiting short-term rentals within Residence A areas, the ordinance would also require operators of short-term rentals to register with the city directly.  The Inspectional Services Department would be tasked with maintaining the registry and also enforcing the rules of the ordinance. The department would be able to assess fines of $200 per day for offering an ineligible unit as a short-term rental. Violations of the ordinance or other city codes, such as noise violations, would be subject to a $100 fine per day. The registration could be revoked for two violations within six months or three violations within 12 months.

The Inspectional Services Department and Fire Department would both be responsible for inspecting units after an owner seeks to register them. During the Jan. 11 meeting, councillors voted to have the Health Department inspect the units as well.

The original version of the ordinance direct abutters be notified of a pending application for a short-term rental. Councillors changed that so ward councillors would receive notifications along with all property owners within 300 feet.

Chris Walker, Mayor Thomas Koch’s chief of staff, told councillors it would likely take the Inspectional Services Department 30 to 60 days to get the registry up and running after the ordinance is passed.

Council President Nina Liang proposed an amendment to the ordinance, which her colleagues approved, giving it an effective of date of March 15. That could be amended again going forward.

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