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Baltimore City Council plan to take up sweeping new Airbnb rules is pulled back

The Baltimore City Council was all set to consider sweeping new regulations for online rental sites like Airbnb next week, including a ban on people renting out houses or apartments that aren't their primary places of residence.

That plan abruptly changed late Friday.

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Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young was the lead sponsor of the measure, which was included in a publicly posted draft agenda for the council's Monday meeting. But after being asked about it, Young's office said the bill would be pulled back.

Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young, said the bill was inadvertently advanced beyond the drafting stage.

"It's probably 80-90 percent ready," he said. "It just needs a few more tweaks before it's ready."

The draft proposal, which the council president's office had provided to The Baltimore Sun earlier Friday, would have imposed a number of new rules on the short-term rentals.

It would have extended the city's 9.5 percent hotel tax to bookings made through the sites. It would also have created a licensing system that only allowed people to advertise space in their own homes for rental through the sites, which also include Homeaway and VRBO.

The state hotel trade group, which has pushed for stricter regulations, smiled upon the measure. Amy Rohrer, president of the Maryland Hotel Lodging Association, said it would keep what the group describes as unregulated hotels out of the business and bring revenue to Baltimore's tourism promotion agency, which takes a cut of the hotel tax.

Rohrer declined to comment on the council's change of plans Friday, saying she had not been told about it.

Rachel Indek, an Airbnb host who manages multiple properties, said she appreciated the work of Young and Councilman Eric Costello, a co-sponsor of the bill, but said if the draft becomes law, it would force her out of business and put people she employs out of work, too.

"We are small businesses, we are investing Baltimore City," she said. "We are conscientious, contributing members of the city."

Costello said his main interest was in applying the tax to Airbnb rentals and having a licensing system that would allow city officials to bar operators who have caused problems. He couldn't be reached for comment after the council president's office put the brakes on the plan.

Jurisdictions across the country are weighing how to tax and regulate short-term rental sites.

Airbnb, a big player in the industry, has generally accepted paying hotel taxes and some other rules, so long as it doesn't deem them too onerous for its hosts. A spokeswoman for the company declined to comment on the Baltimore City Council's maneuvering.

The Maryland General Assembly took up a proposal this year backed by the hotel industry's advocates that would have treated online rentals more like conventional hotels, but it did not pass a bill. And the Baltimore council tried to extend the hotel tax to short-term rentals last year, but the proposal didn't come up for a final vote.

Montgomery County struck a deal with Airbnb last year under which the company collects hotel taxes on behalf of hosts. That has generated $500,000 for the county, Airbnb says.

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