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Ward 5 Council member Kenyan McDuffie announced new legislation to establish enforcement procedures to prevent illegal short-term rentals on Airbnb and other online platforms that reduce the supply of affordable housing and increases rent across the District.

Joined Tuesday, Jan. 31 by the Working Families Party, DC Jobs With Justice and other tenant and advocacy organizations, they put forth a bill that draws upon models from across the country, providing tough new penalties and increased transparency.

“Access to affordable housing remains of paramount concern to residents across the District of Columbia,” McDuffie said. “While at the same time, the city lacks a coherent regulatory scheme for short-term rental housing, allowing bad actors to take those units off the housing market.

“This has been going on long enough,” McDuffie said. “It is time to create a clear, enforceable legal framework so that those who are exploiting the lack of regulations are stopped, and those who want to practice responsible home sharing can come into the light.”

Under current law, hosts are required to obtain a business license designed for more traditional hospitality enterprises. The new legislation will create a type of business license specifically designed for short-term rentals.

According to McDuffie and company, many operators do not bother to obtain licenses, a problem because business licenses are a valuable tool to ensure that operators are complying with District regulations designed to protect housing availability, neighborhood quality of life, health and safety standards.

Under the new bill, hosts will face significant penalties if they refuse to obtain a business license. More importantly, hosting platforms will be responsible for verifying and posting business license numbers.

“Last month, we stood in front of a rent-controlled apartment building that had been converted into an illegal hotel by a commercial operator in Columbia Heights,” said Elizabeth Falcon, executive director of DC Jobs With Justice. “That commercial operator and others like him are illegally taking away affordable housing our working families badly need. This legislation puts a solid framework in place for short-term rentals that is clear, fair, and protects our communities from illegal commercial operations.”

In addition, the new short-term rental license category limits hosts to short-term renting only of their own primary residence. This requirement, when it becomes enforceable, will end commercial short-term rental operations that they say deplete housing and harm neighborhoods.

Some of the key provisions of the bill are:

– Vacation Rental 15 Night Cap: A resident may offer a short-term rental as a vacation rental, without being present, for a maximum of 15 nights cumulatively in any calendar year.

– Violations & Civil Penalties of Short-Term Rental Law: Any person [host] found in violation of this law can be fined no more than $1,000 for the first violation, $4,000 for the second violation and $7,000 for the third and subsequent violations.

– Fines Contribute to Creating Affordable Housing in the District: Fifty percent of fines will go to the city’s General Fund, and the other half will be deposited in the Housing Production Trust Fund that is used to provide financial assistance for the production of low-income housing in the District.

– Removal & Notices By Hosting Platform: Hosting platforms are responsible for removing listings without a valid business license and shall provide all relevant requirements for short-term rentals to any person seeking to use their platform.

– Grace Period: There is a grace period of 120 days after the law becomes effective so that hosts have adequate time to register for their Basic Business License.

“Rent in the District is among the highest in the country and it didn’t happen by accident,” said Valerie Ervin, senior adviser for Working Families Party. “Commercial operators using Airbnb, not homeowners looking to earn a little extra money, have been abusing short-term rentals by gobbling up affordable housing units and converting them into illegal hotels, helping to make D.C. one of the most expensive places to live.

“The mothers and fathers who work and live here will never have a fair shot at making ends meet until we level the playing field and stop this abuse,” she said. “This legislation does just that.”

Sarafina Wright –Washington Informer Staff Writer

Sarafina Wright is a staff writer at the Washington Informer where she covers business, community events, education, health and politics. She also serves as the editor-in-chief of the WI Bridge, the Informer’s...

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