Providence aims to regulate short-term rentals like Airbnb

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Providence City Council is close to passing regulations for short-term rentals such as Airbnb, aimed in part at preserving the city’s shrinking housing stock.

The ordinance, which passed its first reading Thursday night and is slated for final passage in June, would restrict short-term rentals in certain residential areas to only owner-occupied buildings.

“It basically cuts out non-owner occupied investors, buying houses just for the purpose of having an investment vehicle in a residential neighborhood,” said Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan, D-Ward 5, the chair of the Ordinances Committee. “They’re taking units off the market for families and individuals who are looking for a place to live and want to live in our neighborhoods.”

The ordinance would also require a special use permit for a short-term rental, defined as fewer than 28 days. There would be no fee for the permit, Ryan said, because the goal was for the city to know where the rentals are located.

“So if a neighbor calls into the police, they’ll know that there’s a short term rental for that property,” Ryan said. She said there have been complaints from neighbors, and also concerns about why they were seeing a rotating cast of people at one home.

The four zones that would be included in the owner-occupied requirement are R-1A, R-1, R-2, and R-3, which are residential zones that include single-family, two-family, and three-family homes. 

Other sections of the city, including higher-density residential zones and areas with mixed use of commercial and residential properties, would be allowed to have short-term rentals in non-owner occupied buildings.

Airbnb, one of the more popular websites used to rent homes for short-term use, expressed concerns on Friday about the owner-occupied requirement.

“While we are still reviewing this proposed ordinance, we have concerns about how these regulations will hurt the local residents who rely on home sharing for extra income, as well as small businesses that benefit from visitors,” said Josh Meltzer, head of Northeast policy for Airbnb.

Meltzer said the company supports “common-sense regulation of home sharing” and says the company has worked with other Rhode Island cities and towns to craft regulations.

Ryan said she had not heard from Airbnb or any lobbyists on the matter, and said no one showed up to oppose the ordinance at a public hearing.

Victor Morente, the press secretary for Mayor Jorge Elorza, indicated in a statement Friday that the mayor would support the ordinance.

“The administration continually monitors changing land use within Providence and is open to appropriate amendments to the zoning code,” Morente said. “This particular change is part of a continual process to regularly update zoning and is responsive to, but not overly prohibiting of, the growing market for short term rentals within the city.”

Liz DeBold Fusco, a spokesperson for Airbnb, said Memorial Day weekend is expected to be its biggest in Providence history, with 1,600 guests booked. She said more than a third of the guests are over the age of 50, indicating they might be parents or grandparents coming to town for Brown University graduation.

DeBold Fusco also noted that Airbnb has been collecting and remitting taxes to the state and city since 2015.

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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