Debate over short-term rentals continues in Boston

Debate over short-term rentals continues in Boston

BOSTON — The debate over short-term rentals continues in Boston.

A month after residency restrictions began to be enforced, companies have found a loophole.

Mei Qun Huang, her husband and three kids lived in a Chinatown row house for five years before she says her landlord nearly doubled the rent and was forced to move.

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And hers wasn’t the only family in Johnny Court.

“As soon as the first floor people moved out, it turned into short-term rental,” Huang said. “So how do I know that? There are people who come in and out with suitcases and every so often there are strangers and people we don’t know."

Chinese Progressive Association’s Karen Chen translated for Huang.

The community-based nonprofit has been tracking displacement in Chinatown for decades and worked with the city on an ordinance to put residency restrictions on short-term rental companies.

“We’ve seen so many short-term rentals in Chinatown and this is really at the cost of long term residents and the people who need Chinatown out of necessity, not because it’s a trendy neighborhood,” Chen said.

But advocates say these national and international companies have found a loophole in the law and they’re pushing the Zoning Board of Appeals to reclassify their buildings as ‘boutique hotels’ or ‘executive suites’ -- except under the ordinance.

The city has received 10 executive suite exemption applications that cover 209 units, including one from the hospitality company Sonder which owns the apartment complex in Southie on 320 D-Street.

“The building behind me is a classic example where existing tenants in that building are not allowed to do short-term rental but the owner is seeking an exemption through the loophole to take 17 of those units and out them on as executive suites,” City Councilor Michael Flaherty said.

Sonder told the Herald this fall. Sonder said it "seeks and abides by the appropriate licensing framework in every city."

Flaherty co-sponsored the ordinance and says if Sonder wants to convert housing units to executive suits, they should have to get permission from the neighborhood.

“Make executive suits a conditional use and have the community have some say as to whether or not they want them in their neighborhood,” Flaherty said.