The Senate today approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Dawn Euer to require every short-term rental property listed for rent on the website of any third-party hosting platform that conducts business in Rhode Island to be registered with the Department of Business Regulation.
The legislation (2021-S 0501A) would create a statewide registry of basic information about each property to ensure compliance with safety and tax regulations, with owners’ contact information in case of an emergency.
“A few years ago, our state finally required third-party platforms like Airbnb and VRBO to comply with the hospitality tax, but all they provide is the money with a breakdown of how much is supposed to go to each municipality. We don’t get addresses, so there’s no government entity that can currently track properties rented in this manner. We don’t even know how many properties are offered or rented this way. Without this information, there’s no way to ensure they are complying with laws and regulations that keep the public and their guests safe,” said Senator Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown) in a statement.
The bill now goes to the House, where Rep. Lauren H. Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport) is sponsoring companion legislation (2021-H 5505). She and Senator Euer have been working for several years on efforts to address regulation and taxation of third-party hosting platforms, which have created new challenges in public safety as well as equity issues pertaining to the hospitality industry.
In their districts in Newport, the effects of the short-term rental industry are particularly evident, especially with the development of properties dedicated solely to short-term rentals, which reduces much-needed permanent housing available to residents.
Newport and other municipalities and the state have been at a loss in ensuring their compliance with tax, health and safety codes that were created with the expectation that residential properties housed residents, not travelers. The anonymity fostered by the third-party platforms and a frequent lack of on-site management reduces the sense of responsibility between renters and property owners, and sometimes results in renters using properties for out-of-control gatherings. Newport has already experienced one tragedy this summer – the murder of a URI student at a party held at a short-term rental on Thames Street in Newport on Memorial Day weekend.
Having every property identified and registered would increase accountability and ensure that local authorities have contact information in the event they need it, Senator Euer said.
The Senate bill is cosponsored by Sen. Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton), Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick), Sen. Maryellen Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence) and Sen. Alana M. DiMario (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown).