Airbnb Made D.C. Affordable for Tourists. The City Council Just Voted to Rein It In.

Hosts will be required to get a license, report their activities, and only rent properties where they reside.


Lara Hawketts and her husband, Alex Fuentes-Gonzales, live with their kids in a two-story house in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Washington, D.C. In 2009, Hawketts lost her job working for a British consulting firm. Looking for ways to pick up extra income, Hawketts discovered that she could host short-term guests for a modest fee through a new service called Airbnb.

"They would stay in our basement," Hawketts says. "One person will be on the sofa or two people would be in the queen bed. We'd have a pullout couch and a day bed and the whole family would just squish up and they didn't care."

When Hawketts' friends and neighbors took an interest in Airbnb but shied away from all the work involved, she saw a business opportunity. Along with her husband, she started Home Sweet City, a business managing Airbnb rentals for other hosts. Today they oversee more than 60 properties.

"We just hear these amazing stories of folks that would come to the city, save for sometimes their entire lives, bring their family and it would be their one trip of a lifetime to D.C.," Hawketts says. "There was no way they could afford to stay in a hotel."

Today, a mid-scale hotel room in Washington D.C. runs on average $237 per night. For the about the same price you can rent this centrally located four-bedroom historic townhouse, or for $110 this modern basement apartment near Capitol Hill. Or, for travelers on a budget, there's this twin bed in a shared room near Dulles airport for $16.

On November 13, with the support of the hotel Worker's Union and the hotel industry's trade group, the D.C. City Council passed a bill that could have a devastating impact on the district's short-term rental market.

Airbnb hosts can no longer rent out properties in which they don't reside. Those renting out their own spare rooms and couches will be required to obtain a license, report their activities to the city on a monthly basis, and be present during a stay, with the exception of up to 90 days a year.

City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) says the intent of the bill is to eliminate competition from Airbnb rentals, and make it cheaper for permanent residents to live in Washington, D.C.

"We limit the short-term rentals to a person's primary residence and prohibited to a second or third property," Mendelson says. "We think that that correlates to improving the housing supply in terms of affordability."

But there's a danger this new bill could unintentionally wipe out the Airbnb market all together.

"D.C.'s current zoning actually prohibits short-term housing in most zones, including home sharing," says Tracy Loh, a data scientist at George Washington University. Loh points out that even though most Airbnb rentals are already illegal, the city has never enforced the zoning code. This new law could change that.

"If the city gets involved in regulating Airbnb and requires the platform to register, get a permit, and share data, then they will know where Airbnb activity is happening in the city," Loh says. "That means that they'll know where there are code violations."

Hawketts says that if the zoning regulations are enforced, it would be disasterous for her family. "The fact that we rent our basement so frequently, it pays two-thirds of our mortgage"

Prior to the vote, Mendelson said all 13 memebers of the City Council sent a letter to the Zoning Commission. No changes were made to the regulations, but the Council passed it anyway.

"Some of our owners have actually just said, 'Whoa,' you know, the ones that are a little bit, nervous of the situation and want to plan ahead."" Hawketts says. "They said, "okay, we're gonna stop this and we're going to get a long-term tenant,"

"Some are completely the opposite: 'I'm going to do this, whether they try and stop me or not…I'm just going to take the risk and run with it.'"

Mendelson says that Airbnb hosts should embrace the new law because—assuming the zoning code changes— it provides a legal pathway for them to operate.

"You know we created a company out of necessity and out of sheer determination and blood, sweat and tears," Hawketts says. "We built it from nothing in a new market.

"Someone's pulling the rug out from under our feet and that that to me is, it's really sad. Just doesn't seem fair or just."

Produced by Mark McDaniel. Cameras by Todd Krainin and McDaniel.

Tar and Spackle by Blue Dot Sessions is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

Dance by Monplasir is licensed under CC BY 4.0

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  1. The scariest words someone can utter to themselves if they live in a modern, urban area: Hey, I have an idea…

    1. I’m pretty sure the scariest words anybody, anywhere can utter are: “I’m thinking of voting for the democrat.”

  2. Hey, but it’s free!

    Indigenous women kept from seeing their newborn babies until agreeing to sterilization, says lawyer

    Sterilizations happened as recently as 2017, Saskatchewan lawsuit alleges

    “In the throes of labour … they would be approached, harassed, coerced into signing these consent forms,” said Alisa Lombard, an associate with Maurice Law, the first Indigenous-owned national law firm in Canada.

    The women would be told that they could not leave until their tubes were tied, cut or cauterized, she added, or that “they could not see their baby until they agreed.”

  3. Those renting out their own spare rooms and couches will be required to obtain a license, report their activities to the city on a monthly basis, and be present during a stay, with the exception of up to 90 days a year.

    This is outrageous! WTF is that exception?!

  4. “with the support of the hotel Worker’s Union and the hotel industry’s trade group”

    They expect some return on their investment….

  5. I’m looking for the union thug in the backgrou… oooh there he is.

  6. Can’t people just stay in NoVa and ride your infamous death train into the Holy City?

    1. Paging Dr. Rorschach.

  7. It seems there is a legal work-around in SF as of now, where an owner can keep a rental unit off the ‘permanent’ market (and believe me, once someone moves in, it is as permanent as a marriage) and offer it through airbnb. Which bookings make nearly the current market rental rate, and within a year or so, leaving the owner farting through silk undies compared to the owner who rented ‘permanent’.
    Of course the rise in rental costs is directly related to ‘rent control’ and the city’s regulations on new construction. Right now, some deaths would really increase the value of many rental units; empty properties sell at multiples of occupied ones.
    A couple who just completed a remodel nearby had the sense to include a ‘suite’ which has never been ‘rented’ and is therefore off the books of the rent control thugs. Ditto a woman who had been ‘black-marketing’ a unit through airbnb, had to register it, but since it had no tenant, was able to keep it as an airbnb unit.
    The SF government, driving the market they refuse to acknowledge, continues to be the cause of ‘the housing crises’, but convincing the vote-buyers who make up the SF city government of that fact is a task close to convincing Hihn that he really is as stupid as his posts.

  8. The only regulation are those that stop theft or fraud. Maybe safety ( Things such as horse back riding or skydiving all ways has risk to it). Every thing else is just social engineering or a legalized protection racket.

    1. We really need a edit button on here. The starting statement should have been, The only legitimate regulations are those that stop theft or fraud.

      1. “We really need a edit button on here.”
        I keep getting “Sponsor” notifications, in spite of the fact that Reason now get a buck or two from me, and that’s for two reasons:
        1) Reason seems to deliver pretty much zero bang for the buck; Check IJ for an alternative
        2) The web site is run by some kid down the block on a server that the hag’s ‘IT-guy’ wouldn’t accept. Notice when you think you’re clicking on an article the server is slow enough and the site is therefore ‘jumpy’ enough that you’d clicked on “Sam’s Used Cars”?
        Not sure who is really running the place now, but they get a check for $0.02 and a ‘fuck you’ note.

  9. I am also writing Custom Essay Writing Service on the topic of how exactly tourism management system should be for common person and it should be necessary vaccinations for each and every person.

  10. “Today, a mid-scale hotel room in Washington D.C. runs on average $237 per night. For the about the same price you can rent this centrally located four-bedroom historic townhouse, or for $110 this modern basement apartment near Capitol Hill. ”

    Haha, yeah right. In my experience, AirBNB, or AirB and Fee, as I call it, once you get done paying the actual price, not the bait price, it’s as much as the hotel room anyway.

  11. Looks like Airbnb didn’t get the memo about campaign contributions to city councilpersons, so they can defeat the strong Republican challenges in the next council election.

  12. The last place any affordable service should be available to the lowly masses is Washington, DC.
    After all, if you can’t embezzle enough taxpayers money and accept enough graft money to live there, then you shouldn’t be there.
    Its that simple.

  13. It’s only a matter of time until the fascists reach out to control and suppress any unregulated activity.

  14. The denizens of that dictatorship would have a better chance of using this abuse as an electoral lever for a libertarian presence in City Hall if Reason were to fix the mp3 link to the article.

  15. I am one of those who recently benefited from the affordability of Airbnb during my first visit to D.C. earlier this year. I stayed at a comfortable brownstone just a 10 minute walk from Union Station for a fraction of what a hotel would have set me back. I am sorry to see the city, and so many other cities, setting up roadblocks to what has been a brilliant alternative for so many travelers. Last month, the Boston Globe ran a front page banner story about a couple that had a very bad airbnb experience while vacationing in southern California. Front page. How many people, I wondered, had horrendous hotel experiences during that same period: lost reservations, poor service, bed bugs, stolen property, excessive charges, and on and on. But, the Globe reported on a single couple that had an unfortunate Airbnb experience, without even finding similar, corroborating stories. Shoddy journalism like that makes it easier for cities like Washington D.C. to pass unnecessary and restrictive regulations on business models that challenge the status quo.

  16. the unions are funding the anti-airbnb movement. Shocking. What amazes me is how few people realize airbnb is funding Reason. Airbnb is mostly a scam. Airbnb does nothing to prevent renters- who have leases that specifically state they cannot sublet– from turning a property that does not belong to them into a hotel. If there is an issue with the hotel patron, who is responsible–the tenant or the owner? What if the airbnb patron decides not to leave and simultaneously the tenant’s lease ends, with the tenant moving out. Who is responsible. Do you think the owner wants to go through the court system to resolve such issues? That’s why most leases have no sublet clauses.

    Shame on reason for promoting a scam.

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