For several years, I have been working within the General
Assembly, and with the Division of Taxation and local municipalities, on
efforts to fairly, safely regulate short-term rentals offered by third-party
hosting platforms such as Airbnb and VRBO.
Government at every level has struggled to keep up with the rapid
development of this technology-driven new economic sector, which is as yet
unregulated, unchecked and very questionably taxed.
I’ve worked on several efforts to address their regulation and
taxation, and faced numerous roadblocks. Chief among them is the difficulty of
even identifying all the properties that are being offered for rent in this
In my district in Newport, where hospitality is the driver of the
economy, the effects of this development are particularly evident. Our tax and
health and safety codes were developed with the expectation that residential
properties housed residents, not travelers. This hybrid use — and the use of
third-party hosting platforms that complicate the identification of the
properties being used — have left Newport, other municipalities and the state
at a loss to determine how to ensure that hosts are complying with the measures
that are intended to keep guests safe and in compliance with the collection of
hotel and sales taxes.
While, ultimately, I would like to see such properties subject to
some basic regulation to ensure they are complying with zoning laws and keeping
both renters and owners safe, it is difficult to enforce any kind of regulation
when we don’t have any definitive way of finding them all.
Incredibly, there is no government entity that can currently
track properties rented in this manner, nor is there any list made public or
provided to the state or municipalities by the companies that are offering them
to renters online. Although platforms like
Airbnb remit taxes to the state for distribution to municipalities, the companies provide only a monthly breakdown of the total tax revenue it has
collected from properties in each city or town, not their addresses or even how
many properties there are.
Attempts to require the companies to provide locations to
government entities have been answered with lawsuits.
I have introduced the Third Party Hosting Platform Municipal
Registration Act (2019-H
6119) as a first step. My bill would require individual homeowners who list
their properties for short-term rentals to register with their city or town. Property
owners would be required to provide their contact information and disclose how
many rooms they are offering for rent.
Under the bill, the platform would not be required to disclose
any information, only to notify Rhode Islanders of their obligation to register
with their local municipality upon listing their property. After a six-month
adjustment period, the platforms would be responsible for listing only properly
registered properties. Owners of unregistered properties would face fines of
$250 to $1,000.
Once cities or towns are aware of where the listed rental properties
are, they would be able to perform any necessary inspections to ensure compliance
with health and safety codes.
We have zoning laws and local ordinances about rentals and
residential properties for the protection of the public. They protect people
from unsafe buildings and maintain decent standards of living in communities.
While Airbnb and similar technology-based rentals were not envisioned when most
communities wrote their codes, those local laws were intended to protect
everyone, including those who now participate in the short-term rental industry.
My bill would make enforcement of existing codes possible.
Rep. Lauren H. Carson, a
Democrat, represents District 75 in Newport.