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Boston Airbnb regulations prompt federal lawsuit

Apartment-sharing giant wants judge to block rules from taking effect in January 2019

Square apps glowing on a smartphone. BigTunaOnline/Shutterstock

Apartment-sharing giant Airbnb has sued Boston in federal court to stop the implementation in the new year of rules regulating short-term rentals.

The City Council passed the regulations in June, and the Walsh administration supports them. They target tenants and investors who rent out apartments on a per-night basis. The rules largely spare smaller owner-occupied properties such as two- and three-family homes—units in those can still be rented out if the owner is there.

The regulations also establish a city registry for short-term rental hosts, who will have to pay a $200 fee to join it. That registry will be publicly available, ostensibly making it easier for residents to know who or what is renting out space in their neighborhoods through Airbnb and other such sites.

The city will enforce the regulations through fines per violation.

The lawsuit, though, seeks to block all of this. Airbnb argues that requiring online hosts to enforce the city’s new rules violates a federal law protecting online platforms from being sued over third-party content and also that the rules infringe on Airbnb’s First Amendment right to free speech.

Barring a federal court decision, Boston’s regulations are still set to take effect January 1. New York City has had similar rules in effect for a while now, and has been cracking down on illegal short-term rentals in dramatic fashion.

Meanwhile, state legislation that would create a short-term rental registry for all of Massachusetts—and thereby make it easier for cities and towns to enforce rental rules—has been stalled since August, per the Globe’s Tim Logan. Stay tuned.