FOR MANY people who want to visit Washington, particularly families attracted by the free museums and other highlights of the nation’s capital, the cost of a hotel room can be off-putting. Some stay away or limit their visit; others look for cheaper lodging outside the city. Either means less revenue for Washington and its businesses. Home-sharing services such as Airbnb provide an attractive alternative that not only helps D.C. tourism but also allows property owners to make some money. Given such benefits, the D.C. Council needs to tread carefully as it considers how best to regulate short-term rentals.
Council members are set Tuesday to take up the latest iteration of a bill that would place restrictions on short-term rentals. Like a growing number of other jurisdictions that have regulated home-sharing, the District is responding to complaints about noise and public safety. There is also concern that some landlords are using services such as Airbnb to establish de facto hotels in residential areas, shrinking the supply of rental units and driving up rents.
The proposal, crafted by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), is an improvement over the original bill proposed last year that largely would have foreclosed short-term rentals by limiting owners from renting their homes to 15 days a year when they are not present. The revised bill raises the limit to 90 days and reduces the fines for first-time violations.
But there are still onerous provisions, such as preventing short-term rentals for second homes, burdensome licensing and reporting requirements, and overly prescriptive rules. What’s more worrisome, Airbnb officials say, is how the council has come up with a set of rules without an understanding of the unique characteristics of the Washington market, and what the real-life impact will be on the city and residents who rely on the income to be able to keep their homes. Home-sharing services have allowed neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River that historically have been cut off from tourism dollars to enjoy the benefits that visitors bring.
“A hacksaw to the short-term rental industry” was the characterization of D.C.’s approach from Christopher Nulty, head of public affairs for the Americas at Airbnb. Mr. Mendelson told us he is open to changes to the bill as it is debated. That’s good, because as written, the bill is still pretty restrictive and would curtail arrangements that have helped those who live in the city and those who visit it.