73°Mostly Cloudy

Airbnb Wants Your Support to counter Council legislation for short-term rental housing

by Prince Of Petworth February 9, 2017 at 1:30 pm 95 Comments


“Dear PoPville,

I’ve been hearing a lot about potential regulations on Air Bnb in DC and received this email from them a few days ago:

Home sharing is thriving in our nation’s capital with over 6,000 active hosts and 287,000 Airbnb guests. Unfortunately, short term rentals face loud opposition in DC, and the city council is considering enforcements that would restrict hosts from opening their homes to both national and international guests.

The proposed legislation – supported by hotel industry interests – includes a 15-day cap for hosts and up to $7,000 in fines for “violators”. We are in need of Airbnb supporters to help impact this crucial decision. Will you help us by contacting your elected officials today?

I know a lot of readers are probably interested in what might happen.”

Following is a press release from Councilmember McDuffie’s office:

“Today, Councilmember Kenyan R. McDuffie, Chairman of the Committee on Business and Economic Development, announced the introduction of new legislation to establish a workable regulatory framework for short-term rental housing. This legislation, drawing upon successful models from across the country, provides new penalties and increased transparency and reporting requirements to ensure residential neighborhoods are retained for the full-time residents of D.C.

Under current law, hosts are required to obtain a business license designed for more traditional hospitality enterprises. This legislation creates a new type of business license specifically designed for short-term rentals.

Currently, many operators do not bother to obtain licenses. This is a problem because business licenses a valuable tool to ensure that operators are complying with District regulations designed to protect housing availability, neighborhood quality of life, and health and safety standards. Under the new bill, hosts will face penalties if they refuse to obtain a business license. More importantly, hosting platforms will be responsible for verifying and posting business license numbers.

Critically, the new short-term rental license category limits hosts to short-term renting only their own primary residence. This requirement, when it is enforced, will effectively end commercial short-term rental operations that deplete housing and harm neighborhoods.

“Access to affordable housing remains of paramount concern to residents across the District of Columbia. While at the same time, the city lacks a coherent regulatory scheme for short-term rental housing, allowing bad actors to take those units off the housing market. This has been going on long enough: it is time to create a clear, enforceable legal framework so that those who are exploiting the lack of regulations are stopped, and those who want to practice responsible home sharing can come into the light,” said Councilmember and lead sponsor Kenyan McDuffie.

This new legislation would create a commonsense and comprehensive system for enforcement, penalties, transparency and reporting requirements to hold both short-term rental hosts and platforms like Airbnb accountable, while providing the District with the tools needs to regulate this new industry, which can take affordable housing away from D.C. residents and disrupt neighborhood quality of life.

“Rent in the District is among the highest in the country and it didn’t happen by accident. Commercial operators using Airbnb, not homeowners looking to earn a little extra money, have been abusing short-term rentals by gobbling up affordable housing units and converting them into illegal hotels, helping to make DC one of the most expensive places to live.” Commented Valerie Ervin, of the Working Families Party, “The mothers and fathers who work and live here will never have a fair shot at making ends meet until we level the playing field and stop this abuse. This legislation does just that.”

“Last month we stood in front of a rent-controlled apartment building that had been converted into an illegal hotel by a commercial operator in Columbia Heights,” Elizabeth Falcon, the Executive Director of the DC Jobs with Justice said Tuesday. “That commercial operator and others like him are illegally taking away affordable housing our working families badly need. This legislation puts a solid framework in place for short-term rentals that is clear, fair, and protects our communities from illegal commercial operations.”

Key Provisions of the Bill:

New short-term rental license category created: A new category of Basic Business License for short-term rentals is created to address the unique challenges of short-term rental businesses.

Licenses & Publication Required: Every host must maintain a Basic Business License and inform rental platforms of the approved BBL number. The hosting platform is then responsible for publishing and verifying each BBL number.

Permanent & Occupied Residence Only For Licenses: The owner/host must be present during the short-term rental stay, and no person can register to rent more than one residential unit, and that unit must be that person’s permanent residence in the District.

Vacation rental 15 Night Cap: A resident may offer a short-term rental as a vacation rental, without being present, for a maximum of fifteen (15) nights cumulatively in any calendar year. There is no cap on home-sharing, including offering private rooms and shared spaces.

Violations & Civil Penalties of Short-Term Rental Law: Any person (host) found in violation of this law can be fined no more than $1,000 for the first violation, $4,000 for the second violation, and $7,000 for the third and subsequent violations.

Civil Penalties on Online Platform: Any Hosting Platform who violates this law shall be liable for a civil penalty of $1,000 for each booking transaction made in violation of this act.

Fines Contribute to Creating Affordable Housing in the District: Fifty percent of fines will go to the General Fund; the other half will be deposited in the Housing Production Trust Fund that is used to provide financial assistance for the production of low-income housing in the District.

Removal & Notices By Hosting Platform: Hosting platforms are responsible for removing listings without a valid business license and shall provide all relevant requirements for short-term rentals to any person seeking to use their platform.

Grace Period: There is a grace period of 120 days after the law becomes effective so that hosts have adequate time to register for their Basic Business License.”

  • Caroline

    I am fully in support of this. I have no idea how i would have afforded to live in DC when i was 21 if the prices for rentals are what they are now. I think a lot of group housing, basement units, and condo’s are being turned into short term rentals instead of long term. I know that this is a polerizing issue. AirbnB is great I have used it myself but I don’t think cheap vacation rentals for tourists, or income for those wealthy enough to buy up property to turn into short term rentals is more important than housing for district residents.

    I will day this to those that think anyone should be able to rent property they own to airbnb:
    I use to live in London before coming to DC and when I go back to the neighborhoods that i once frequented their they are very sad. A lot of the housing their in the last 10 years has been bought by billionaires who want a weekend get away or others investing in property and making it short term rentals. young single residents and middle income families have been pushed out and these beautiful streets feel soulless. There is no community. I think the NYtimes covered this issue recently. I would hate to see Petworth and Colombia Heights (where i live) over run by tourists and loose the local vibe that makes these neighborhoods so great.

    • Anonymous

      AirBnB could end the argument that short-term rentals are taking properties off the market by providing DC gov with data. It should be really easy for them to compile the number of unique rental properties that listed in 2016, and then show a distribution of how often properties were rented. They don’t even have to provide the addresses of these properties. My gut feeling is that AirBnB is not affecting the housing market much at all.

      The London example is addressing a different issue: the UK becoming a haven for rich foreigners. It’s tough for the Russian of Chinese governments to seize a residential property in London, which is why you get these soulless streets. The UK gov is also encouraging this behavior by allowing foreigners to buy a special “investor” visa that costs over $1 million.

      • HaileUnlikely

        The data that you suggest they show would not unequivocally answer the question of how many of those units would have been offered for traditional rental if not for the existence of AirBnB?

        • Anonymous

          It would be a good approximation. If AirBnB shows that 1,000 units are rented out through their service for more than, say, 60 days a year, then those are likely units that could have been rented out to long-term tenants. Without knowing the distribution it’s hard to judge whether the new regulations will be effective at making rental units available to residents.

          • HaileUnlikely

            Sure it would be helpful, but it would be far from sufficient to “prove” anything. (I’ll grant that if the number of units rented more than a few days a year is really small, it would demonstrate pretty conclusively that AirBnB wasn’t significantly distorting the housing market. I suspect the number would be pretty large, though, and my point is that we don’t and can’t know how many, if any, of those frequently-rented units would have otherwise been offered as conventional rentals.

      • Hill Denizen

        We have a similar visa here (EB-5). It just stipulates that you have to create a certain number of jobs. A lot of developers are using it to finance major projects.

      • Formerly ParkViewRes

        The London example is also happening in Vancouver. Not AirBNB, but because of rich foreigners. They buy up houses and they don’t live in them or even rent them out. I watched this documentary and it was sad–this one lady lived on the street for over 20 years and she walked down her street passing 3-4 houses with no one in them. No one had lived them since they were bought. However, Canada got rid of that special investor visa and it’s still a problem.

      • ET

        It will be interesting to see if DC is different from the DC and New Orleans market where AirBNB is definitely taking properties off the market – data will be helpful anecdotes are not data. On a related note, I think AirBNB and the city of New Orleans have worked out something that may be a model for the company and cities to use going forward.

    • Deebs

      On the flip side of your rent point, I don’t know how I (as a young person) could afford to live where I do now unless I could Airbnb out my space when I have to travel for work – about 2 weekends per month. The housing market in DC is expensive, but that’s mainly because it’s a low density city with a ton of demand. Rents were outrageous before Airbnb caught on in the last few years. The biggest increases in average rent were in the mid to late 2000s. My rent hasn’t increased much for similar spaces over the last 3-4 years, and Airbnb helps me afford a space close to a metro and walkable to shops/restaurants when I’d otherwise need to be farther into the suburbs.

      • So your landlord allows you to rent out your apartment when you are away?

      • Anon Spock

        So airbnb let’s you live above your means….Is that really a positive? I’m also curious if your landlord is cool with it. I suspect most of these places in apts are violating the lease.
        On the other hand, I’m curious how much these places affect rents. Of the places I know that could easily be long-term rentals, they wouldn’t be cheap. The govt needs to do something to crack down on the rent controlled places renting illegally, but I’m not sure if this legislation would really accomplish that goal.

        • Formerly ParkViewRes

          Yeah, that’s not cool. I would not allow my tenant to AirBNB my house for any reason.

          • Anon Spock

            NEVER! I always mention it in the ad, so there is no confusion.

        • Ava16

          I wouldn’t call getting a second stream of income as “living about your means.” I have a side gig along with my full-time work which just increases my means.
          Also Deebs doesn’t specify that they rent and then sublease. They may own their unit. I am looking into buying a studio or 1 bedroom condo soon and one of the issues I have with pieces of this legislation (other pieces I am fine with) is that it would hinder me from gaining extra income to subsidize my mortgage costs. (But yes, if they were a renter, this would likely be wrong.)

          • Anon Spock

            “My rent hasn’t increased much for similar spaces over the last 3-4 years,…” Yup, deebs is a renter.

            “don’t know how I (as a young person) could afford to live where I do now unless I could Airbnb out my space when I have to travel for work “-‘if you can’t afford your rent without subletting, you’re living above your means, imo.

            Many condo bldg prohibit airbnb, so legislation aside, it may be hard to find.

      • Caroline

        Most rentals don’t allow for sub leasing so i am not sure how many people have this issue. Thank being said i am not so much concerned about basement or in home rentals . More so when large town house or whole condo complexes are bought up by developers and converted into short term rentals. Those are functioning as hotels and should be regulated and taxed as such or else leased out to long term district residents.

        • Anon Spock

          I’ve come across it several times (renters subletting on airbnb) even though bldg or leases prohibited it. It’s very common.

        • Anonymous

          The proposed regulations don’t address multi-family buildings that have more than a certain percentage of units devoted to short-term rental services, such as AirBnB. I haven’t seen any figures as to how often this even happens in DC, which means that the regulation is being proposed on pure speculation, or, at best, anecdotal evidence. I want DC to demand data from AirBnB, and then craft the regulations based on 1) what is actually happening, and 2) with a stated goal in mind (e.g. fewer units rented for more than x number of days).

  • Anonymous

    I agree that DC should encourage property owners to rent out their property to long-term tenants rather than focus on AirBnB rentals. The 15 day rule, however, seems somewhat arbitrary. What if it takes 30 days for the landlord to find a new tenant?

    Will a homeowner who wants to rent out a room for a single weekend (let’s say, for inauguration 2021) have to apply to get a Basic Business License? The BBL is likely to cost well over $100, which seems a bit intense for a license that will be used for two days. If I want to rent my house out in ten days’ time, will the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs be able to process my license in time?

    DC gov needs to do a better job explaining how this is going to benefit people who live in DC. It sounds like this is a sop for hotels so they don’t have to compete during busy periods, like the Cherry Blossom Festival.

    • Hill Denizen

      It says it doesn’t apply to single rooms and shared spaces.

      • anonymous

        So if I have an interior staircase to my basement apartment, would this be excluded?

        • Anon Spock

          I’d think no if you share a space with them (kitchen, bath), but I wouldn’t see a staircase alone making a space shared. I could be wrong though.

        • Anon

          It might not matter. From the bill itself: “Dwelling unit” means one or more habitable rooms comprising complete independent living facilities for one or more persons, including within those rooms permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking, and sanitation that is intended for a single household. The term “dwelling unit” does not include an accessory dwelling located in the basement of a single-family dwelling.

    • HaileUnlikely

      Regarding your question “What if I want to rent my house out in ten days time?” “There is a grace period of 120 days after the law becomes effective so that hosts have adequate time to register for their Basic Business License.” (If you want to go from decision to rental in ten days time a year after this becomes law, that’s different, though)

  • gonzo

    I support basic regulation of individually-owned short-stay rentals that prevent commercial operators from exploiting the intent of home sharing arrangements, and works on the balance of the need for affordable housing and owners’ rights. Would like to understand the impact of the proposed legislation re: paperwork behind business licenses and other requirements to obtain them.

    So, clearly, put me down as undecided.

  • Ava16

    Generally in favor of this, but a little weirded out by the “The owner/host must be present during the short-term rental stay” and 15 night cap on not being present. If I want to rent out my studio or 1 bedroom apartment and go stay at my boy friend’s for a week a few months out of the year, I feel like that should be OK. Plus what if I don’t want to be around the strangers in my house? Also as someone who has rented AirBnBs before, I shy away from shared living spaces, as I don’t want to be around the homeowner.
    Furthermore, how would they police this provision? All based on the unit listing?

    • Formerly ParkViewRes

      I agree. I am confused by this? I have stayed in an Airbnb where I never saw the owner after they gave me the keys and it would’ve been super weird for them to be present since it was a one bedroom. However, we have also rented a room in a bed/breakfast type Airbnb so obviously the owner was there. It was very nice because he made us food, offered us drinks, etc. However, outside of that it’s weird.

    • anoNE

      Believe that “consecutive” is the key word there. You just couldn’t go over to your bf’s for 16 straight nights. Someone correct me if I’m misinterpreting.

      • Anon Spock

        It says cumulative not consecutive.

      • HaileUnlikely

        The post above said “cumulative” not “consecutive.” The phrasing was odd enough that I actually wondered if it was a typo and they meant “consecutive,” but they said “cumulative.”

        • anoNE

          Ahhhh. Yup. Thanks to both for the correction. It is definitely phrased oddly, but cumulative it is.

          • Michael Pierce

            By the way, this is very typical of legislation in DC. It’s often worded to be about as confusing as possible.

  • Bob Sacamento

    I definitely support this. I also dont want to see Petworth and Columbia Heights as well as other neighborhoods become just a bunch of Air BnB rentals. It would get rid of the feel of the neighborhoods entirely and make DC even more transient than it already is. I might expand the number of days a unit could be rented, though, to 30 or so. That would make it easier for people who are moving to DC on short notice to relocate and stay at an airbnb and then move into a more permanent situation. But that is a minor quibble. I dont appreciate airbnb also sending propaganda/talking points via email to anyone who has ever stayed at an airbnb. I know I received an email from them and its just misleading. But I guess thats their perogative.

    • Caroline

      you should write to your council member! make sure they hear your voice!

    • DCbyDay

      I mostly agree and was going to say, the limit is really arbitrary and I know quite a few folks who have stayed in Air BnBs while they get to know a neighborhood/find more permanent housing upon moving to DC.
      I’m also not a fan of the “host must be present.” My parents live out in suburban MD and there are plenty of times I’d like to rent my place and just escape to theirs for a weekend — or rent my place out while on vacation. (with a friend nearby who can respond to emergency requests from renters).

  • anonymous

    Airbnb is perfect for me because I don’t want a full time tenant in my basement apartment and get to select when I want to rent the space out short term. So if I don’t do airbnb I still wont rent the apartment out.

    • anoNE

      I’m watching this closely because I have both friends and family in a similar situation. They like their basement unit as an in-law suite/ guest room when they need it for visitors but don’t mind making some extra money when in town and open to hosting air bnb guests. That said, I think you’re fine under the proposed legislation — as long as you are on property (upstairs) at your primary residence, you can rent out a room in that house at whatever frequency and duration you wish. Obtaining the license is what would change for you. Again, someone please correct me if I’m reading the language incorrectly.

    • Anon

      Basement accessory units in single family houses are specifically exempted from many of the restrictions. I don’t know why McDuffie’s people didn’t mention that in the press release, because it could go a long way to ease some people’s anxiety about the bill.

    • Anon

      I second this statement – if I were not AirBnB’ing my basement, I would not rent it out full time to a tenant (basically, the hassle of being a full time landlord given the revenue I’d anticipate making is not worth it). But I’m contributing to DC’s tax base, and directing guests to our locally run small businesses. Not to mention, the added income helps us afford our mortgage/have more money to spend (at said locally run businesses).

      I agree with preventing landlords from renting out entire apartment buildings on AirBnB, but my reading of the proposed legislation is that my ability to continue doing so hinges on the interpretation of “a room in my house” versus a separate unit. If the unit has its own bathroom/kitchen but shared laundry and an interior stair, is that a separate unit or is it a room in my house? The ambiguity in the proposed should be cleaned up.

      As an aside, I tried talking to Councilwoman Nadeau’s office about my concerns as her constituent (after voicing similar to McDuffie’s office), and her response was literally “I don’t know why you would want to talk to me about this” – *super* helpful…

      • Anon

        I agree that the bill is horribly written, but I think you’re looking at it wrong. For the purposes of the bill, don’t think of it as renting a room, but renting a portion of a place. In this case the place is a dwelling unit (except when you’re talking about an accessory unit in a single family house). The bill covers all short-term rentals of any portion of a dwelling unit (the definition of Host would back that up). So your questions may not matter. To further complicate matters, the bill introduces the term “vacation rental.” This means when you’re renting out your place short-term, but you’re not there for any part of the person’s stay. In order for that to have any meaning, the other stays would have to mean that you’re there and that would mean you’re just renting a portion of your place.
        As far as the response from Nadeau’s office, I’m not surprised. I doubt anyone there understands this bill outside of the talking points provided to them by McDuffie’s office.

  • Marty

    I’m pretty solidly in the camp of homeowners/ landowners rights to do with their property as they wish. That being said, I do agree with the idea of some proposed limitation. However, most of these rules seem to be somewhat pedantic, but that fits within the standard for DC Government.

  • Ampersand

    As a happy Airbnb user, I am 100% in favor of this legislation. As the message above states, there are over 6000 hosts in DC; assuming that some hosts have multiple units, that means the total units unavailable for long-term housing is possibly over 10,000 in DC alone. If you are a single family trying to rent out an extra bedroom or basement, you can still do that (although you’ll need a license, which is also probably for the best). It will, however, squelch the trend of turning would-be apartment buildings into de facto unregulated hotels. We already have actual hotels, and a shortage of actual housing. Turning housing into hotels drives up the cost of the rest of the housing, which I guess is great if you’re a property owner but kinda sucks for the rest of us.

    • Anonymous

      According to the Census there were 309,574 housing units in DC in 2015, with 41% being owner-occupied. Some of these units have multiple rooms, which is not accounted for in the Census figure. If you double the units as an estimate, the 6-10k estimate you made represents ~1% of the housing market. That’s still a lot of units, but not an astronomical amount.

      It would be interesting to get an estimate of the rent that someone currently renting a room out solely on AirBnB (if that exists) would charge if the unit was changed to a long-term rental. Would the rent be far above the low end of the market, which is the section that most people complain about supply in?

      • lizcolleena

        I have a friend who rents her apartment out on Airbnb since she moved in with her boyfriend. (Landlord was fine with it, so no need to go down that rabbit hole.) She generally earns about double what her monthly rent is off the Airbnb income. I’m happy for her to be doing well and all, but it does seem like it’s taking a affordable unit off the market.

        • Anon Spock

          That’s a very interesting scenario.

  • AirBnB Basement Guy

    I recently converted the basement of my town home into an AirBnB rental. It’s listed as a separate unit, but it’s basically a finished basement with an interior door you can lock to separate from a small common area in the basement. It was a shitload of work. We redid the entry to our house to make the entry up to code, added a fire egress in the bedroom, put in a kitchenette (microwave, 2 burner stove, sink, under-cabinet fridge), full bath, and generally made it very nice compared to the storage crap-hole it was before.

    I choose the AirBnB route over a long-term rental for a couple reasons, which probably resonate with a lot of people:
    1) the ceilings in my basement are only 6’11”, nowhere near the 7’6″ now required for a basement rental. I would be looking at a $50k dig out to get to 7’6″.
    2) AirBnB allows me to block off weekends when we want to use the space for ourselves (family, friends, etc.)
    3) Not having the threat of a shitty tenant screwing me over with DC’s tenant laws
    4) The ability to easy reclaim the space should my family continue to grow down the line

    I understand the need to reign in crappy landlords who are renting out whole houses full time and I even welcome having a separate (hopefully easier {everyone knows DCRA is not great}) classification for a business license, but I don’t think it makes sense for basement rentals to get caught up with that lot. I will remain skeptical and fight any legislation that lumps these two groups together, as it will probably be to the benefit of hotels who have been known to shower council members with their largess.

    • anonymous

      Same here. But in order to get the Business license- don’t you have to get an inspection of the property? If the ceilings are not high enough to be a rental- how would they treat the 2 burner stove or even a regular sized stove in the basement unit? Will they require you to remove that?

      • AirBnB Basement Guy

        I don’t know. It’s possible I may not have a Business license.

    • DC

      So basically you want to be a landlord but don’t want to follow the rules that apply to landlords.

      • Bdylan89

        The majority of the basement rentals in DC are not “legal” basement rentals. I don’t really see a problem.

    • Formerly ParkViewRes

      You wouldn’t be eligible for a business license if the basement ceilings aren’t 7’6″? Maybe they’d have different requirements for an AirBNB? How does that work now–your basement can be rented out on AirBNB legally, but long term rental it’d be illegal?

    • anon

      From my reading of the bill basement accessory units are not considered independent units for the purpose of the short term rental limits

      • Anon

        They’re not considered “dwelling units” at all. I doubt that’s what they intended, but by excluding them from the definition they’ve effectively made them unregulated. I suspect that the intent was closer to your interpretation: to have the whole home considered a dwelling unit — including the accessory apartment — so it would be covered under the bill; but that’s not what a literal reading of the bill leads to. So if you rent out a basement accessory unit in a single family home it appears you’re off the hook entirely, in a way that someone who just wants to rent out a bedroom in their residence wouldn’t be.
        That said, the listing requirements and reporting burdens on Airbnb or VRBO are such that they probably won’t make a distinction between accessory units and other apartments and will probably require that everyone have a BBL and observe the maximum number of absentee rentals.

        • crowethorn

          No, a basement would count as a room in your home as far as the legislation is concerned. Not counting it as a separate unit is important because otherwise it would count as renting out a unit you don’t live in, which is allowed neither currently nor under the legislation.

    • crowethorn

      So, you’re saying you invested massively in an illegal business and now you’re mad someone might enforce the law? Maybe time to question your life choices.

      That said, the regs for the license will be written after the law passes, it may be that your basement will be allowed under the new regs.

    • Neighborly


  • Trey

    I don’t have a short term rental But I just keep thinking that if I support this proposal now, eventually DC will come after something I care about and depend on. I don’t want to empower DC that much. Must be other solutions than more regulation and bigger government to enforce the new regulation and fines this could potential cause.

  • I am in full support of this legislation! I had to deal with a neighbor illegally renting out their unit full time as an investment. It violated the terms of the lease, however building management could do very little to stop it because they were technically paying their rent on time and it would have been very hard to evict them. They finally reached a settlement in court and convinced the person to terminate their lease. The main issue I had was that the person consistently rented out the apartment to large groups of people who threw massive parties, caused property damage, and had countless strangers let into our building without security being able to track who was visiting. If you want to do this in a condo unit and it’s not against the bylaws, fine. But DC needs legislation to prevent these fly-by investors from swooping in and taking these units off the market.

    • navyard

      So true. It sucks to live next door to someone who doesn’t work the same hours I do. I can only imagine what it’s like for a string of people who have limited vacation time and are trying to get all of their partying done in a small window of time.

  • Yes, we need some regulation, and yes, these regulations need a lot more refinement and clarification. Turning existing affordable housing into ABB hotels is wrong. Renting an apt. and then renting it out surreptitiously on ABB is wrong. But there are a whole lot of other scenarios besides those.

    I’ve rented out an apt. in my home for 10 years (on VRBO, before Airbnb) and DCRA never knew what “rules” it should fall under. (Bed and Breakfast, Rooming House, Boarding House were the only possibilities.)

    A friend owns a 3 unit rowhouse where she lives in one unit and rents the other two out (with C of Os and BBL) on Airbnb. This proposed regulation doesn’t seem clear about that situation. But if she is forced to rent them out full time, those two apts. are still not going to be affordable and the city will just loose the extra tax revenue she brings in.

    The DC hotel industry doesn’t seem to realize that they are not losing revenue to Airbnbs, so much as to cheaper hotels and motels in Arlington, or to hostels. There are also many visitors who come to DC because of Airbnb who may not have otherwise come at all.

    BBLs are basically just a tax – and I’m actually fine with that – but the process of obtaining one must be quick and painless. No more than 15 minutes online.

  • Dane

    So, I’m agnostic on the overall point of how this gets regulated- but I do question this idea that there is a huge swath of potential renters being edged out. I have rented my basement apartment to long term tenants for the past 5 years and this last turnover was incredibly hard to fill. According to some of the local property management companies, they have seen a sharp decline in the interest in the standard English basement type rental due to the enormous volume of large condo/rental developments going in all over the city. So, I did cover some weeks with Air Bnb due to the unusually light demand and it would seem counterproductive to reduce the ability of average income folks to make their mortgage in the city by reducing income generating possibilities. We have two kids, who were born in the District, we work govt jobs, and we couldn’t afford to stay in our house without the rental income. If the city is going to put downward pressure on that demand by approving these high-density developments, then it seems a bit unfair to also restrict a homeowner’s ability to generate that income in other ways.

    • Anon Spock

      Why do you feel it’s DC’s job to make sure you can pay your mortgage?

      • anonymous

        Why should DC make sure there are affordable rentals?

        • Anon Spock

          I love red herring.

        • Ava16

          Why should DC make sure there a jobs for us to live off of?
          Anon Spock, this is the second comment like this you’ve made. I can’t help but wonder if you are being facetious?

          • Anon Spock

            Was this for me? I’m very confused.

      • lizcolleena

        He didn’t say that. He said DC shouldn’t get in the way of him doing so by legally renting out a basement apartment. Why shouldn’t he be able to do what he likes with his property (so long as it doesn’t infringe on someone else’s rights)?

        • Caroline

          no one is saying he cant but if you want to be a landlord in DC with a rental property then you have to abide by regulations.

          • lizcolleena

            Which he is, but when he couldn’t find a long-term rental he filled his space with short-term rentals. DC is making it more onerous to do so (for spare rooms).
            If you want to look at affordability of housing in DC then the conversation is much much much greater than Airbnb. The city council is just making things more bureaucratic as a short-sighted stop gap solution.

        • Neighborly

          Totally agree with Lizcolleena here.

    • navyard

      Yet Dane was able to buy a home in the first place, which is no longer the case for so many because home prices are soaring due to the additional income potential….

      Sorry to be presumptuous, but when you have kids, you are expected to make cost-cutting moves in other areas. If you can’t afford your home on two government salaries + a rental unit (even if you have to reduce the rent), then you’re spending too much money somewhere else. This isn’t a judgment…it’s math.

      • Formerly ParkViewRes

        Some people buy more home than they can typically afford because of the rental income. They justify a $5000 mortgage because they will offset it with $1500-$2000/mo in rental income. Not a good idea for most people IMO, but I know people who did it.

        • Dane

          I think the point that I am getting at is that the real estate prices are such in DC that for a 2 (middle)income family to afford a house in the city and also have kids, there usually needs to be some other income. To the above poster who implies that somehow our budget needs adjusting, I would invite them to actually do that math and get back to us. Bearing in mind that daycare in the city runs 1700/month. Per kid. We are living with 4 people in a 2 bedroom/900 sq foot space with no yard- extravagence isn’t our issue. The district govt makes a lot of noise about maintaining families, improving schools, etc- but you can’t do that by reducing middle income earners ability to stay here- restricting the ability to rent space in our homes does that.

    • Neighborly

      +1. Spot-on Dane.

  • anonymous

    As an apartment dweller who lived next to someone who turned her apartment into a full-time Airbnb, it was a nightmare. I ultimately was able to provide evidence to our property management company that this individual was doing it and illegally profiting from her rent-controlled unit. Besides breaking the lease rules where you can’t sublet or Airbnb your unit, profiting from a rent-controlled unit is indeed illegal in DC, and this person was charging hundreds of dollars more than what her unit actually cost (I found her listing on the site and turned it over to management). It was a nightmare for me, since I never knew who was living next to me from week to week, or even from day to day. Without staff living in our building, there was no real recourse for me if one of her “tenants” ended up being trouble. The last straw was some very questionable daytime stays- won’t go into details because they are not suitable for work. People often forget that actual tenants, who live in their apartments, are affected by these arrangements.
    Also, there is something to be said about regulations. One of the reasons Airbnb is affordable compared to hotels is they are not required to have a plethora of rules intact- that includes rules of cleanliness and cleaning standards. In my neighbor’s case, she would show up for no more than 15 minutes, cleaning up junk (and presumably changing sheets?), but cleaning was nonexistent. Some of her clients talked to me about the dirtiness, but I’m guessing they weren’t aware of just how bad it was given that she actually didn’t clean anything.

    • Anon Spock

      Who pays to stay in a dirty apt? I’m surprised airbnb didn’t ban her, but I guess no one reported her.

      • anonymous

        It was bad, but maybe not bad enough for them to report her. It’s the stuff they wouldn’t be able to see or know about that disturbs me. Was she really changing the sheets and towels during those 15-minute stops- or was she just straightening things (as I suspect)? I never saw her with cleaning supplies, and there’s no way she would be thoroughly cleaning the tub, toilet, and kitchen while she was talking on her cell during her quick visits between guests. But that’s what she would do- ick!

        • Anon Spock

          That thought alone is disgusting. Holy cow!

  • tvl

    Sure, I’ll support this as soon as they remove the pop up ban in the name of affordable housing.

  • 9th Street Neighbor

    AirBnB needs to be reigned in. They run rough-shod over all cities/jursdictions. No coorperation; none. Period. They need a few slaps, and this is one attempt and I hope it is successful.

    • JohnH

      It’s OUT OF CONTROL in New York. I think DC is trying to get control over things before it gets that bad.

  • anon8

    First, it’s important to recognize that AirBnB began remitting the 14.5% hotel tax directly to DC two years ago, so at a minimum they’ve taken some proactive steps to get in compliance (although to be accurate, AirBnB hosts should have been collecting and paying the tax themselves). Despite these goodwill gestures though, I feel that some regulation is needed, if for no other reason than to get all AirBnB hosts under the same regulatory arrangement. We operate an AirBnB rental in the basement of our row house, and I went through all of the steps with DCRA to make it a fully legal bed & breakfast business. Nearly all of our AirBnB competitors in the neighborhood – and I’m confident to say, citywide – are not compliant and are operating illegal rentals. (Just check the PIVS tool on DCRA if you know the address of an AirBnB rental, and look for the BBL and Home Occupation Permit.) Some people do it because getting the permits is too complicated, but I think most people do it because there’s little to no enforcement of the existing laws. We should debate the details of this bill, however my primary concern is with the enforcement teeth that comes with it, because the current law is simply is unfair to those of us who have gone through the regulatory hurdles to be in full compliance. At this point I’d be more in favor of deregulating the whole thing than the status quo.

  • Dylan

    Typical DC. Pass regulation, upon regulation and more regulation. Folks – regulation does nothing when it is impossible to comply with it and DC council just doesn’t get that.
    We have rent control. But no affordable housing.
    We have certificate of occupancy rules for basements but most are illegal as they do not meet the regulation, thus everyone rents them illegally.
    Now, they are after AIRBNB, claiming affordable housing shortage.
    Let’s be clear. We have a shortage of affordable housing because the council does NOTHING to provide affordable housing but instead wants to regulate private owners to do that on its behalf and clearly that doesn’t work.
    When looking at who supports this, you will find that the hotel lobby is the driving force behind this. The hotel lobby and the union funded McDuffiee and Nadeau campaigns. So, if you are wondering why AIRBNB now and here, it is because the hotel lobby wants it outlawed.

    Now, remember this when you have family coming to visit, because there are no hotels in Columbia Heights or Petworth and when they end up paying $400 a night for staying in the legal hotel, which just bought out our city council.

    Whatever your opinion is on Airbnb, we all can agree that most up and coming neighborhoods would benefit from some extra commerce and most should be happy that people even want to stay in them whether from Airbnb or any other site. Let’s not get all carried away by what is happening in NYC, because this is no NYC. People get beaten over head by kids every day, cars get broken in almost hourly, so please forgive me if I am not all excited about regulating Airbnb. As far as I am concerned, they should do more to provide safe and clean living DC rather than limiting what I do with my property after having paid for it and paying taxes through my nose (and believe it or not, but my trash still doesn’t get picked up in Columbia Heights on regular basis). So, again, why Airbnb, why now , unless someone has been paid a lot of money. If I get to pick, start with the trash pick up and move on to the crime. That’s what you should be doing my council member – that’s what I need !

    • Lot of good points. At my apt. rental in Columbia Heights (VRBO/Homeaway, not much ABB) I’ve hosted roughly 80 “guest groups” per year – mostly families of 4 – for 10 years – so rough total of 800 tourist families. Many would not have even come to DC if they had to pay $300 or more per night for a hotel room. Or they would have stayed in a motel in Arlington. My apt. is $140 in peak season, $125.00 otherwise. That is for a one-bedroom apt. so separate sleeping rooms for parents and kids.

      They eat at the neighborhood restaurants – (The Heights, Pete’s, Panera Bread etc.) for an average daily expenditure of – (estimating of course) – $60.00 per day. So for the past 10 years I’ve brought at least $180,000.00 in business to Columbia Heights – which is $18,000 in restaurant taxes to the DC govt. that would otherwise have gone to Virginia, or not in DC at all.

      • Plus of course – I pay income tax on that income.

        • I just had to decline a family for an April visit because they have a two-year old and with open stairs, my apt. is not safe for toddlers. Because hotels are so expensive, they decided to simply not come to DC this year.

    • Neighborly

      Exactly correct. I’d rather the council deal with real issues in our community rather than pander to the corporate Hotel Lobby. More regulation of private citizens is not the answer.

      • But sensible, rational and effective regulations to address the real issues that an enormous corporation – Airbnb – is causing would not be a bad thing.

  • Trinidaddy

    McDuffie has never seen some legislation he didn’t like. Proposed legislation is onerous and would limit supply and competition for short term rentals. No.

  • Neighborly

    So long as I’m in compliance with the law, what I do with my own home is nobody’s damn business. If I want to generate additional income by renting out my basement when I’m not using it, I should be allowed to do so by-right. I own my property, the city does not and should not be telling me what I can and cannot do with it. Regulating and punishing citizens because of an endemic, city-wide problem is not the answer. The council needs to do their job and find solutions that don’t hurt the people who already live here and pay taxes to keep this city afloat.


    • There actually is a vital role for intelligent govt. regulations to insure the safety of rentals. I remember 20-25 years ago 10-12 Hispanic men (diswashers/busboys) all sharing a basement apt. in Mt. Pleasant died in a terrible fire. Unfortunately DC definitely sucks at sensible regulation, but that doesn’t mean they can’t reform. That is what we need to campaign for – intelligent and sensible regulation.

    • crowethorn

      If you’re in compliance with current law, this law won’t affect you.

      • If you read all the previous posts, you would understand that there really is no “current law” regarding vacation rentals. It is a new niche. That is why we are having a conversation.

        • crowethorn

          There is current law. It’s not tailored to short-term rentals, but it definitely applies. Part of the idea of the legislation is to create a license category that specifically caters to that use. Hopefully that will result in clearer and more streamlined rules.

          The other point of the law is to have actual enforcement of the zoning code and licensing laws, which should stop commercial operations where housing is being taken off the market and converted to hotel use.

        • mark

          I’ll echo what Victoria said, and add that as with any rental property in DC, it’s not just about the permits, it’s about what gets you that permit: Fire safety inspections, acceptable living conditions, other code issues, etc., along with ensuring the city can ensure that taxes get paid.

          However, for those who say that the current law is sufficient and the rules should just be enforced, here are some issues that highlight the need for reform:
          — To get a bed & breakfast permit (it’s actually a Home Occupation Permit in addition to the BBL), you are required to provide at least one parking space.
          — You have to provide a plat of the property showing where the B&B section of the dwelling is located.
          — The fire safety inspection doesn’t occur during the initial application process, but rather when you go to renew the permit two years later, which makes no sense.
          — Cooking facilities are actually not allowed.
          — B&B permits aren’t allowed in multiple dwelling units.
          — The dwelling must be owned and occupied by the operator of the B&B.
          — They don’t seem to care about ceiling height for this permit.
          — Separate utilities aren’t required.

          Confused yet?

          Then there are the regular one and two-family rental permits, i.e., what most owners do when they rent their English basement apartments to long-term tenants. On the one hand, that permit should allow the owner to have more flexibility with how they use the basement apartment (I think?), but on the other hand the inspection and application process is more stringent (ceiling height, separate utilities, getting a rent control number, etc.).

          People who want to make their AirBnB basement apartments legal might be up the creek for something as stupid as lack of a parking space, or cooking facilities are provided when technically they’re not supposed to be. But then there are those who go the extra step of getting a one or two family rental, and they run into even stricter regulations.

          So I think a key thing with this legislation is addressing some of the issues that prevent people from getting permits.


Subscribe to our mailing list