Airbnb bill may limit short-term rentals in U.S. capital

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Short-term rentals of Jackie Howard’s two-bedroom home near major tourist attractions in Washington, D.C. have helped her family pay for everything from plumbing emergencies to braces for her daughter.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Airbnb is displayed at an Airbnb event in Tokyo, Japan, June 14, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo

After Tuesday, when the district council is expected to vote on whether rentals on platforms like Airbnb and HomeAway can continue in the U.S. capital, Howard’s listing and thousands of others may become illegal.

The legislation would bar people from short-term rentals of secondary homes and limit rentals of primary residences to a maximum of 90 days a year if the owner is not physically present. There would be no restriction on short-term rentals if the owner is there.

Passing the legislation would make Washington the latest city to try to regulate the skyrocketing use of platforms like Airbnb, following other cities facing housing crises, like New York and San Francisco.

AirDNA, a website that tracks Airbnb rentals, says there are nearly 7,000 Airbnb listings in Washington, and annual growth is 39 percent. Data on the total number of short-term rentals in Washington were not immediately available.

The legislation passed unanimously in a preliminary vote earlier this month. If the council votes in favor of the legislation in a second vote on Tuesday, it would then need approval from Mayor Muriel Bowser and congressional review.

Bowser has said she is concerned the bill is too restrictive but her office did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

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Supporters of the legislation say short-term rentals take housing off the market and risk making it more expensive.

In one high-profile case, the district’s attorney general sued companies for illegally operating rent-controlled apartments as hotel rooms.

Critics argue there is little evidence that short-term rentals affect housing prices. The rentals can help hosts afford the cost of living in Washington, they say.

Several council members have called for less stringent limits and may push for amendments to the legislation to allow for rental periods of 120 days a year, rather than the 90 currently specified.

“We have a large number of people who are either active military, they work for the Foreign Service, they work for different federal agencies or places where they get dispatched out for a couple of months at a time,” said Charles Allen, who introduced an amendment to allow for 120 days of rentals.

The amendment failed but the council chairman Phil Mendelson said he would not be surprised to see similar provisions up for a vote again.

“Undoubtedly there will be some people who fall in between the cracks, where they don’t feel like they’re away long enough to rent it out, they’d like to do short-term rentals,” said Ed Lazere, the executive director of D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, a group that supports the legislation.

But, Lazere added: “There has to be some balance and that’s what the law is intended to do.”

Owners like Howard, who said she was unable to maintain a 9-to-5 job due to health reasons, say the legislation will cut off an important income stream.

“I would have to rethink everything and figure out another way to do it,” she said.

Reporting by Makini Brice; editing by Jessica Resnick-Ault and Rosalba O’Brien