Group pushes for bill placing limits on home-sharing in DC

WASHINGTON — A group of community leaders is pushing the D.C. Council to pass a bill regulating home-sharing services such as Airbnb, saying that the operators make housing in the District more expensive and neighborhoods less safe.

Representatives of the group Airbnb Watch and other community members said Tuesday that unregulated short-term rentals of private houses encourage commercial operators to buy entire buildings, and essentially run illegal, unregulated hotels.

“We’re not opposed to short-term rentals, we’re not opposed to residents renting out a room, or people having a home to rent … but we are concerned about short-term rentals that essentially operate as hotels,” said Graylin Presbury, of the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations.

He added that the proliferation of such rentals was driving up home prices in the District, causing people to move elsewhere.

“In D.C. we have a housing shortage … and [this is] really forcing people out of the city.”

Lauren Windsor, of American Family Voices, part of Airbnb Watch, also said the group wasn’t opposed to “true home-sharing, [such as] a family renting out their extra room,” but that the current state of affairs is “disrupting the fabric of communities.”

“I don’t know if you buy a property to live in a hotel, but that’s what many people are being subjected to. … Day in and day out, strangers are rolling their suitcases in, and you don’t know who they are,” she said.

In her nationwide search, Windsor said, she’s seen Airbnb hosts with up to 60 properties to rent, and that in D.C., for one example, entire apartment buildings in the Dupont Circle area are being converted into Airbnb rentals.

“It’s more profitable to rent them out short-term to tourists.”

The event, at the National Press Club, was designed to show support for the Short-term Rental Regulation and Affordable Housing Protection Act introduced by Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, of Ward 5. The bill seeks to limit short-term rentals to one owner-occupied unit per host, and a 15-night-per-year cap on vacation rentals when the owner is absent.

McDuffie said on his website that in 2016 an entire 21-unit, rent-controlled building in Columbia Heights was listed for rental.

Airbnb has said its business model helps D.C. families and generates money for the local economy. A recent report from Airbnb says District families earned nearly $84 million renting out their homes and rooms last year.

WTOP’s Kathy Stewart contributed to this report.

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Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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