City needs to regulate short-term rentals

I encourage the Baltimore City Council to reject misleading claims from the many commercial Airbnb operators that the proposed bill to regulate short term rentals hurts innocent residents trying to make a little extra income. While some may be inclined to believe that at first, a quick look at the facts reveals quite the opposite. Commercial short-term rentals are hurting small business owners, taking jobs away from hard working hotel workers, and driving up housing costs (“Baltimore City Council committee presses forward with regulations on Airbnb-style rentals,” Sept. 13).

Short-term rentals are no longer about fulfilling those idyllic dreams of couch surfing and meeting other wanderlusters on cross-country backpacking trips. Just peruse Airbnb.com for a few minutes and you will see it firsthand — the website has become flooded with commercial operators, advertising hotel look-alike, high-rise apartments and homes, purchased by investors, flipped, and then rented out for short term stays. This is not about your retired parents or free-spirited cousin renting out their extra bedrooms to make a little extra cash. Such instances of true “home-sharing” will continue to exist under the proposed ordinance. The true focus is on large commercial operators who are reducing the available housing inventory in our city at an alarming speed and as a result, driving up long-term rental prices, aiding in our city’s crippling affordable housing crisis and hurting the fabric of our neighborhoods through the influx of transient guests.

Baltimore’s hotel and bed-and-breakfast industry cannot, and should not, compete with this unregulated enterprise which does not comply with health, safety, zoning, insurance and taxation requirements that lodging operators must abide by — affording them the option to offer cheaper rates. When a consumer chooses cheaper short-term rental units, hotel and bed-and-breakfast rooms go unfilled and operators have no choice but to cut shifts and, in some cases, shut down all together.

In fact, many hotel employees in Maryland are represented by strong labor unions which means that in such cases these jobs are middle-class jobs with fair wages, family health care, benefits and fair workplaces. Even for non-union workers, a hotel job may be the main livelihood for their working family.

And the public is placed in harm’s way when these unregulated operators don’t comply with basic safety standards. Quite simply, the current regulatory structure supports an uneven playing field that is putting hardworking Baltimore residents out of work for playing by the rules.

The facts are clear. It’s time to act for Baltimore’s working families and pass legislation to regulate Airbnb.

Jay Hutchins, Baltimore

The writer is acting executive director of Maryland Working Families.

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