Baltimore should encourage Airbnb, not discourage investment
Feb 06, 2018 | 2:10 PM
Baltimore City Councilman Eric Costello explains his bill regulating and taxing Airbnb and similar properties in Baltimore. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)
As the owner of a house near Patterson Park who rents two rooms through Airbnb, I'm quite disturbed to read of Baltimore City Councilman Eric Costello's over-reaching proposal to regulate Airbnb and presumably all other short-term rentals available through the Internet (“Baltimore City Council to consider strict limits on Airbnb-type rentals,” Feb. 5). Many other cities have imposed hotel taxes on such rentals, but restrictions that such rentals can only be in dwellings that are a primary residence, or are rented for no more than 60 days a year, make no sense and are not in the interest of the development of our city.
Either Mr. Costello is going to attempt to be quite discriminatory as to which sites are regulated and which are not, or, if he expects these regulations to be fair and reasonable, he clearly has no idea of the damage he will create. Ronald McDonald House, a charity that provides temporary housing for parents whose children are undergoing long-term hospital care, is booked through the Internet and will either be outlawed under Mr. Costello's regulations or will have to substantially change their present practices. The Baltimore Ronald McDonald House is now planning an expansion. For parents using these facilities, there is a charge of $15 a night per room, about $450 a month. This charity will either have to waive these fees or consider changing their plans for expansion.
A few feet from Johns Hopkins Hospital is a series of row houses known as McElderry House. These are short-term furnished rentals predominantly owned by physicians. They provide housing for patients undergoing long-term care at Johns Hopkins and for family members of such patients. The security guards at the hospital are available to escort these patients and their family members from the hospital to these short-term rentals. Under Mr. Costello's regulations, McElderry House will be closed.
A few blocks from Johns Hopkins Hospital, there are graduate student dormitories that not only house long-term medical and nursing students in furnished dorm rooms, but also allow these furnished dorm rooms to be rented by doctors and nurses who come to Hopkins for 1-to-3 month periods. Under Mr. Costello's regulations, these short-term rentals, available through the Internet, will presumably be illegal.
Well over 95 percent of my Airbnb rentals are to medical professionals who have come to Baltimore for further training or to carry out their terms of residency at Hopkins and other area hospitals. It is bad enough that Mr. Costello's regulations will impose hotel taxes on debt-ridden medical professionals who are pursuing further studies in our city. He should not impose arbitrary regulations on the type of moderately-priced accommodation they can find here. If Mr. Costello wishes to do special favors for our local hotel industry, he should simply advocate for a ban on all non-hotel short-term rentals within a mile of the Inner Harbor. In most cities, it is only Airbnb rentals within walking distance of convention and conference centers that charge more than a pittance in rental fees.
If I had a mortgage of 80 percent of the value of my Airbnb rental, my rental fees would not cover my costs. The house, which was purchased as a rat-infested boarded-up shell, underwent a three-year, sweat-equity renovation with the intention of creating a primary residence for my wife and myself when we retire. At present, our house in Patterson Park is much too small for my wife's home-based business. The fees that we charge are in competition with dormitory space at Johns Hopkins and fees for a spare room in many of the houses of my Patterson Park neighbors. The fees that we charge are much lower than the rental fees for the cheaper motels along Pulaski Highway. For us, the advantage of Airbnb is that we don't have to accommodate everybody, we can discriminate, we can look at references. Unlike the Pulaski Highway motels, we do not anticipate frequent police raids for drug dealing and prostitution.
When I bought this house at auction, I was bidding against three landlords intending to convert to it to bare-bones Section 8 housing. If rental through Airbnb had not been an option, this house would not have gone through an upscale renovation. Perhaps Mr. Costello should have his proposal reviewed by the Baltimore Development Corporation.