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I-Team: New Bill Would Regulate Airbnb, Short Term Rentals In Mass.

By Lauren Leamanczyk, WBZ-TV

BOSTON (CBS) — Many travelers are skipping hotel reservations and taking advantage of one of the hottest travel trends: short term rentals.

Airbnb is by far the biggest company matching travelers with rooms in private homes, but there are now a number of sites offering similar services.

This business model is booming, but the I-Team found there are growing pains.

Ben Hoffman of Brighton was looking for a reprieve from last winter’s harsh weather when he and a friend booked a four day trip to Miami. They thought they found a good deal on an apartment through Airbnb.

But their expectations were quickly dashed.

“We were basically staying in what equated to a prison cell,” explained Hoffman. “Bed bugs. No air conditioning.”

The high rise apartment building was cluttered with construction vehicles. The washing machine had a sign taped to it indicating it was broken.

“That was not disclosed to us that it was broken,” said Hoffman. “There was a very profound cat dander or urine smell in the apartment.”

Hoffman shared his woes on www.ripoffreport.com. Hundreds of other upset travelers have reached out to the Better Business Bureau. Some called Airbnb a “scam with false prices and dangerous houses.” Others complained of poor customer service.

Hoffman believes there needs to be a better system between Airbnb and the people who are renting the units.

“I think there needs to be some level of validation that the units are being listed legally,” he said.

Some legislators on Beacon Hill agree.

“Here in the Commonwealth in the last two years, it has really exploded,” said State Representative Aaron Michlewitz of Boston’s North End.

He’s filed a bill that would require property owners to register short term rentals.

“The worst case scenario that we are seeing– basically a person goes, rents it, never stays there,” said Michlewitz. “He just goes to IKEA, dresses up the apartment and just rents it out on a daily basis.”

Tenants at 16-18 Battery Street in the North End fought an expansion proposal because they were concerned the new unit would become a permanent short term rental.

One tenant took pictures outside a current unit which had a sign indicated the checkout time, key return instructions, and an emergency number.

Michlewitz believes a large number of short term rentals can have a detrimental effect on a neighborhood.

“It affects the housing stock to some degree, where you have an apartment that is being used as a daily turnover and not by a person wants to invest in the community,” he said.

In a recent interview on CBS This Morning, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said, “We’ve had 35 million people stay in Airbnb. Not every experience has been positive.”

Across the country, there has been a push to try and regulate this type of business activity. Chesky most recently came to terms with officials in Philadelphia in advance of the Pope’s upcoming trip.

Rooms there will now be registered and subjected to the local hotel room tax.

Airbnb is working with Massachusetts officials as the bill here works its way through the legislature.

Part of the problem is keeping up with the rapid growth of these types of rentals. Bookings are up 143% year to year.

“Every time there is a negative experience, it’s a data point for us to improve service,” added Chesky.

Right now, it is not illegal to rent a room on Airbnb, or a similar site, in Massachusetts. It is important to check with a landlord or condominium association to make sure a short term rental is allowed in a specific building.

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