The General Assembly today approved legislation sponsored by Rep. Lauren H. Carson and 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-H 5505A, 2021-S 0501B), which now goes to the governor, 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 sponsors 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, housing availability and equity issues pertaining to the hospitality industry.
Said Representative Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport), “In our community in Newport, the effects of the short-term rental industry are particularly evident, especially since investors began purchasing properties solely to offer them for short-term rentals, and taking them out of the housing stock available to residents. Our tax, health and safety codes were created with the expectation that residential properties housed residents, not travelers. While the municipalities on Aquidneck Island are currently paying a vendor to operate their own registry to help address some of these issues, a statewide registry would save them money and help municipalities across the state deal uniformly with short-term rentals.”
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, the sponsors said. 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.