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Number of short-term rentals in the Boston area bounced in 2019, despite new rules

A report says that the number of STRs was up 7.5 percent, even as Boston and Cambridge cracked down on the likes of Airbnb

Short-term hotel-booking apps glowing on a smartphone. Shutterstock

The number of short-term rentals in the Boston area increased in 2019, despite relatively new regulations aimed at limiting such properties in Boston proper and Cambridge.

According to a new report from brokerage CBRE Inc., the number of new short-term rentals (or STRs) in the Boston region increased 7.5 percent from 2018 to 2019, to 7,441. The meant that the region’s STR industry was equivalent to 12.7 percent of its conventional hotel stock. The CBRE report pegged the region’s hotel room count at 58,748.

The 2019 increase in STRs came despite Boston instituting what have been called the nation’s toughest such rules regarding the industry. Those rules—in full effect as of December 1 after a months-long rollout—essentially ban most nightly rentals through sites such as Airbnb unless a property’s owner is also present and require that hosts register their STRs with the city.

Before the end of the year, the city had fined several hundred hosts $300 per violation.

Cambridge a couple of years earlier had instituted similar rules restricting STRs in residences not occupied by owners. Those rules also make STRs in Cambridge subject to safety inspections.

But the rules and their enforcement did not stop the rise in the number of Boston-area STRs, a trend that CBRE said was likely due to the region’s hotel market. On any given night, Boston’s hotel rooms are nearly three-fourths full, according to another CBRE report. That reality is expected to hold in 2020.

What’s more, the average room rate for Boston-area hotels was likely running more than $300 a day at the end of 2019, according to data from Pinnacle Advisory Group, which tracks the Boston and Cambridge markets for the Massachusetts Lodging Association.

“As the hotel industry continues to enjoy high occupancy levels, the scarcity of available traditional hotel rooms during peak periods causes travelers to look for alternative options like STRs,” the CBRE report, released January 27, said. “In addition to availability, guests are searching for affordability, location, and local experiences.”

The commercial real estate brokerage also cited what it described as an evolution in the platforms that hosts use to list STRs—an evolution that direct competition with conventional hotels has driven. Airbnb, Booking.com, and Expedia (which includes HomeAway and VRBO) were the largest STR platforms in 2019, according to the report, with many hosts listing STRs across multiple sites.

Though, while the number of Boston-area STRs did grow in 2019 despite the regs, the area has nothing on other major U.S. metros in terms of such rentals, according to CBRE. The number of STRs in Los Angeles, for instance, is equal to 22.3 percent of that metro’s hotel stock; and, in San Diego, Orlando, New York, Austin, and Miami, the share is more than 15 percent (see page 48 of the report).