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As Baltimore’s rules for Airbnb-type rentals take effect, city officials have licensed fewer properties than projected.
As Baltimore’s rules for Airbnb-type rentals take effect, city officials have licensed fewer properties than projected. (BRITTA PEDERSEN / AFP/Getty Images)

As Baltimore’s new rules for Airbnb-style rentals take effect, city officials have licensed fewer rentals than first projected.

The City Council in 2018 passed strict regulations on renting out properties on Airbnb and other online platforms. Starting Tuesday, it limited the number of rentals a host can operate and required hosts to register with city authorities. The law also imposed the city’s 9.5% hotel tax on these short-term rental stays.

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People who operate these rental units had until the end of 2019 to apply for licenses with the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development. Deputy Housing Commissioner Jason Hessler said the department issued 125 licenses as of Dec. 26.

“There’s more that are out there,” Hessler said. “We will continue to work with people and get the word out.”

When the City Council was debating the legislation in 2018, the Finance Department determined there were more than 1,200 active hosts in Baltimore, who together accounted for roughly 2,100 rental units.

Not all of those are eligible for a license under the new rules, though. The city now only permits people to rent out rooms in their primary residence and, in limited cases, one additional dwelling. Before these regulations passed, some hosts operated several Airbnb-style rentals throughout the city as their businesses.

Because of this restriction, Hessler doesn’t know exactly how many licenses the city expects to grant.

The more short-term rentals that operate in Baltimore, the more revenue they’ll generate for the city, thanks to the $200 licensing fee and the hotel tax.

Rachel Indek, an Airbnb host who manages multiple properties, said Tuesday she planned to apply for her license the same day.

Indek, a leader of the Baltimore Hosts Coalition, said the implementation process has been “chaotic” for many hosts, with some deciding to get out of the business. When hosts call city officials to get clarification on the law, she said the answers they get are often unclear, if they come at all.

“We’d have like to see them figure this all out a little earlier,” she said, “before implementing rules and regulations that are putting people out of business.”

There’s still much confusion about how the law will be enforced, Indek said.

Hessler said the housing department faced a short timeline to implement the web of new regulations, and has been trying to work with people to sort out any issues. The online registration portal launched Nov. 1. Understanding that some people might have been delayed, he said, the city doesn’t plan to strictly enforce the rules starting Jan. 1.

The more important deadline, he said, is March 31. That’s the last day a host who has been operating a short-rental separate from their home can apply for a license for one such site. After that, people will be limited to just getting licensed to rent out rooms in the house they live in.

“It’s all new,” Hessler said, “so basically the next 90 days will be a big push to get everybody in compliance with the law.”

Airbnb spokeswoman Liz DeBold Fusco said the hosting platform has been trying to work with the city to educate people on how to follow the new regulations. So far, it’s been difficult, but they hope to make progress in 2020.

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“We want to be a good partner,” she said, “and we want to help.”

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