Warren: Airbnb OK in town, for now

Government won't take specific steps to regulate online booking site

EastBayRI.com ·

Warren homeowners who rent out rooms in their homes through a popular website won’t be subject to any new regulation from the town, after the planning board looked into the matter Monday evening.

Currently, more than a dozen homeowners and even one boat owner offer rooms on the Airbnb.com website, a wildly popular online booking site that brings homeowners together with travelers interested in staying for brief periods, usually one or two nights.

On Monday, board members met to talk about the practice after hearing concerns from several residents over whether town bylaws are being violated by homeowners who advertise their property on airbnb. But after the meeting, board chairman Fred Massie said the town likely won’t do anything at the moment to specifically regulate the practice, apart from making sure that current zoning regulations with respect to parking and the like are followed:

“We feel that’s a better way to go,” Mr. Massie said. “If we can operate with existing zoning laws as opposed to creating new regulations … if they’re not needed, then you don’t need to do it.”

That’s good news to Airbnb renters, who say participating in the online website has helped them tremendously and has been a positive for Warren.

“It’s been fantastic,” said Spencer Morris, who along with wife Allison Newsome rents out space in the couple’s large Italianate house near the Cutler Mill and has been doing so for a year.

Having transient renters come in and out, he said, helps not just homeowners but the town. Warren receives a small amount from a state tax homeowners pay, but the impact is much wider, he said.

Airbnb renting “provides a services which is severely lacking in Warren, which is room. It has the potential to provide significant income, and from a community point of view it is a very good thing.”

Mr. Morris said renters from all over the world have stayed in his home. Some are here on vacation, some to attend events in Newport in Providence, and others to visit family.

“What is remarkable is what we have discovered about the level of interest in the community from the outside,” he said.

“We have people who are returning to visit family; a good percentage are from outside the country. These are not unsophisticated people, who appreciate the positive direction Warren is taking, particularly downtown. The feedback that you get from these folks is rely enlightening. They’re coming in, going to the restaurants, going to Tom’s, participating in the town.”

Mr. Massie said board members decided to discuss the matter after hearing from several residents with concerns, one of whom saw an airbnb ad posted that listed room enough in a home for eight to 12 people, and four cars. After looking into it, town officials discovered that the property in question only had room for just over two cars, based on zoning guidelines.

While situations like that should be addressed, Mr. Massed suggested that the self-regulating nature of airbnb negates the need for new town bylaws. With renters posting feedback on buyers and buyers posting feedback on renters, the site regulates itself and ensures that good, trustworthy renters will be coming in and staying in homes that are clean well-run.

Mr. Morris agreed.

“We’re responsible for making sure the clients have a satisfying experience, and we review them (the renters),” he said. “So people will be on their best behavior. It qualifies people, in a way, and that benefits everyone, not just us.”


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