Bill would crack down on platforms like Airbnb and VRBO in RI

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The relationship between many communities and online hosting sites like Airbnb is complicated.

On the one hand, the sites offer visitors, whose expenses support the local economy, a place to stay.

On the other hand, housing can replace permanent residents with vacationers and lend a springtime vibe to once-quiet streets.

Nowhere in Rhode Island is the tension over short-term rentals as high as in Newport, where visitors transform the city every summer, many staying at some of the hundreds of properties listed online.

In response, Newport put short-term rental rules in its ordinances and hired a dedicated short-term rental compliance officer to enforce them.

But two Newport state lawmakers, Representative Lauren Carson and Senator Dawn Euer, say short-term online rental issues are far from under control.

They introduced a bill that the Senate votes on Tuesday that would require landlords who list rentals online to register with the Department of State Affairs Regulation.

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If owners do not register, the platforms on which they list rooms would be subject to fines: $ 250 for the first 30 days; $ 500 for the next 30 days and $ 1,000 per ad thereafter.

“Initially, when Airbnb started to explode seven or eight years ago, it presented itself as a way for mom and dad to rent a room in their house and earn a little extra cash, which I I’m all for it, ”Carson said in testimony about his bill. “But we all know that has changed and that it is a billion dollar industry in the world, with multi-unit properties and absent owners.”

Critics of short-term rentals in Newport say many of them operate in secrecy and in violation of city ordinances that govern them, but the city lacks the capacity to clamp down on them.

This could change if each rental was listed in a state database.

“There are real concerns about how these [rentals] are executed: are they correctly zoned? Are taxes collected? Do the firefighters have access to any information on these properties? “Carson said.” They start showing up in the neighborhoods and people start saying, ‘What’s going on in that house over there?’ “

Not surprisingly, the bill is backed by the hospitality industry, which in some cases competes with short-term rentals.

“The hospitality industry is one of the most regulated industries in Rhode Island and for good reason,” Sarah Bratko, senior vice president of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association, wrote to the House Corporations Committee. “Most of these regulations, such as the Fire Code, were developed to ensure the health and safety of our customers. One of the challenges of unlicensed short-term rentals is that they act like hotels without oversight or long-established public health compliance. and safety rules. “

While the only regulations in Bills Carson and Euer are that short-term rentals must be registered with the state, notifying the government of the properties could subject them to the application of many building code provisions, fires. , taxes and zoning. They might be required to install sprinklers, build new off-street parking, or apply for a special permit to continue.

Airbnb and other online platforms are battling the bill.

In its testimony, the Technology Travel Association trade group wrote that it had no way of automatically knowing which listings were saved, making the rule unenforceable.

And he says Section 230 of the Federal Communications Decency Act, the same law that protects social media platforms from being responsible for what people say about them, protects them from Rhode’s proposed law. Island.

“In a larger context, if states or local governments started creating a series of laws inconsistent with Section 230, the result would be a legal quagmire that would leave states, cities, platforms, hosts as well. that travelers in a state of law and operational uncertainty, benefiting no one, ”wrote the Technology Travel Association.

The Department of Business Regulation also opposed the bill on the grounds that it would need more staff and IT resources to enforce it.

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On Twitter: @PatrickAnderso_


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