New England town’s Airbnb hosts balk at new fee

Great Barrington, Massachusetts, requires short-term-rental hosts to pay $200 annual registration

(Illustration by The Real Deal with Getty)
(Illustration by The Real Deal with Getty)

Freedom isn’t free, but neither is the nettlesome business of policing short-term rentals.

To defray the cost of monitoring short-term rental sites such as Airbnb, the governing board of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, approved a measure requiring hosts, over their objections, to pay a $200 annual registration fee, according to the Berkshire Eagle.

The funds, officials say, will pay for town staff time as well as monitoring software, the cost of which is currently $18,000 per year, and will increase 7 percent over the next two years, the outlet reported. ‘

The Select Board approved the $200 fee by a 3-1 vote, with one abstention. The board member behind the lone dissenting vote wanted the fee to be $250.

But hosts say the fee is one more in a series of expenditures — including state and local taxes, as well as property upkeep — and limitations that are eroding profits.

“It’s just, wow,” resident Maureen Meier told the board, according to the Eagle. “You’ve already limited how many nights I can do, limited the overall money I can bring in and now I feel like you’re considering adding too much to that.”

She said if she generated $30,000 from her Airbnb listing, she would be required to pay $4,400 in local and state short-term-rental taxes and fees, on top of $4,500 in real estate taxes. Now she has to pay a new $200 fee on top of everything else.

Board member Ed Abrahams, who was at the center of a discussion over whether he should recuse himself because his domestic partner rents out her home, told the outlet his issue was over adding another layer to the bureaucracy.

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

By signing up, you agree to TheRealDeal Terms of Use and acknowledge the data practices in our Privacy Policy.

“They’re operating on the assumption that people are making a lot of money [hosting],” Abrahams said, according to the Eagle. “My bias on all of this is I don’t understand why we’re doing registration. The state is already doing it. We’ve created a bureaucracy and we’re now charging people money to pay for a thing we don’t need to do.”

The debate in Great Barrington over how, or whether, to regulate, track and tax short-term rentals echoes one taking place around the country. Some argue they should be able to rent out their property without government interference, while others say short-term rentals are too harmful to the hotel industry, create public safety issues and encourage investment into properties amid a housing crisis.

Most regulations take place at the local level, including one that took effect on Jan. 1 in Philadelphia.

However, New York state Sen. Michelle Hinchey recently introduced the Short-Term Rental Registry Act, which, if passed, would aid municipalities in short-term-rental regulation.

The bill would create a statewide registry, managed by the Department of State. Property owners would be required to register rental units every two years, or risk $200 daily fines. Registries can ease enforcement of illegal rentals.

Airbnb provided a relatively cool response to the proposed measure.

“We have worked closely with dozens of communities across the state, and as people continue to navigate the rising cost of living, we are committed to promoting responsible hosting which contributes to the local economy,” spokesperson Haven Thorn said in a statement.

— Ted Glanzer