NEWBURYPORT — A bill signed into law Friday by Gov. Charlie Baker will place taxes and regulations on short-term rentals, such as Airbnb, across the state, and the city may regulate them even further in the near future.
The new law takes effect July 1 and requires every short-term rental host – except those who rent their homes 14 times a year or fewer — to register with the state while also imposing the same 5.7 percent state tax on room rentals that is paid by hotels. Communities would also be able to impose an additional tax of their own of up to 6 percent. In Boston, the tax can be set at up to 6.5 percent.
In Newburyport, problems with short-term rentals arose in 2017 when some residents began complaining about frequent noise, parking and other issues caused by partying Airbnb guests in neighbors' homes.
In response to the complaints, Ward 4 City Councilor Charles Tontar proposed an ordinance to limit the number of short-term rental units allowed in the city. Tontar also held a series of public hearings at which residents came forward to express their concerns.
And while some called for a limit — and in some cases, an all-out citywide ban — on short-term rentals, others asked for Airbnb units to be allowed to operate freely, arguing that the service is a valuable resource for local tourism.
Tontar said he previously thought of modeling Newburyport's Airbnb regulations after those adopted in Salem, where short-term rentals are soon to be prohibited in single-family zones but would still be allowed in two-family and other residential zones.
Tontar and other city officials formed a group to discuss solutions to the issue, but were unable to reach an agreement and decided to put the issue on hold.
But now with the new bill going into effect this summer, Tontar said the time may be right for the city to revisit the matter and set its own regulations. On Monday, Tontar said he would consider reassembling the group to resume talks on short-term rental regulations and that he hopes the new law would provide clarity for city officials.
"I think it's significant. One of the problems we had was not knowing how to police short-term rentals," Tontar said. "If the state is willing to be the entity that collects the data, that would be a game changer and would just take that expense away from us."
Tontar expressed concern that having a lot of short-term rental units could "eat up" the availability of affordable housing. He said some level of regulation would help create fairness for traditional bed-and-breakfast owners who already pay significant taxes.
Tontar also said having short-term rentals as a tax revenue source could be good for the city.
"We're also trying to attract a hotel to Waterfront West and (Airbnb units) could be an issue with competition," he added, referring to New England Development's multiuse project proposed for the city's waterfront.
"If we regulate Airbnb, we want to do it fairly," he said.
Staff writer Jack Shea covers Newburyport City Hall. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.