Door Seems To Have Slammed Shut On Short-Term Rental Registry Bill — At Least For This Year

May 23, 2018

A bill that would have placed new requirements on people who rent out their homes on websites like Airbnb will not likely survive this legislative session.

Companies like Airbnb and HomeAway are doing big business in Vermont, and lawmakers this year wanted to pass a bill that would have required hosts to follow health and fire codes. The legislation also would have set up the first statewide registry of hosts in the country.

While the bill came very close to passing during the regular session, Chittenden County Sen. Michael Sirotkin — a lead sponsor of the bill — said he doesn’t think there will be time in the special session to push it past the finish line.

“The bill was very close, but at this point it is unlikely it will be considered,” Sirotkin wrote in an email message.

Tim Piper, president of the Vermont Inn and Bed & Breakfast Association, said the new rules are needed because people who rent out their properties aren’t bound by the same regulations that commercial businesses have to follow.

“This isn’t going to go away,” Piper said. “It’s just a question of how these things will be constructed. And the process is frustrating at times, because you get close, and you start to understand that this can really, you know, make a difference for everybody involved. And then it kind of shoots off to the sides a little bit every once in a while.”

Towards the end of the regular legislative session there was disagreement over what the property owners would be required to post inside their homes or apartments, and how complaints against hosts would be recorded and followed up on.

Piper said this is the second year the inn owners argued for new rules.

And over that time, he said, the number of people using online platforms to find a place to stay in Vermont has grown.

"This isn't going to go away. It's just a question of how these things will be constructed." — Tim Piper, president Vermont Inn and Bed & Breakfast Association

A report by the Joint Fiscal Office estimates that there are about 6,000 unique units listed as home shares in the state, and that the number is higher than comparable population centers around the country.

One of the more controversial provisions of the bill would require property owners who rent out their homes and apartments on a short-term basis to register with the state.

The Vermont Health Department doesn’t have enough staff to inspect every unit, but Piper said a registry would at least give state officials a better idea of where the short-term rentals are located.

“If we register everybody and if there is a complaint, we would now have on record who those people are and where they’re from, etc.” Piper said. “So the purpose was just to say: 'Look, let’s standardize this. Let’s put it together so everybody understands who the players are, that there’s a level playing field, and that there’s some kind of regulatory process that will start to make it safer for these people who go and stay at these places.'"

Airbnb policy manager Andrew Kalloch said the company could support what Vermont lawmakers were suggesting, even though there was pushback from some Airbnb hosts.

“We’ve got almost 4,000 hosts in Vermont,” said Kalloch. “They are opinionated New Englanders. And so we are not gonna dictate to our individual hosts what they should think about any particular piece of legislation, whether it’s coming out of Montpelier or it’s in their backyard.”

Sirotkin said a statewide registry would have given the state another tool to make sure hosts were paying their taxes, and he said some estimates put the extra revenue that’s not being paid at about $2 million a year.

The issue will most likely be taken up again in 2019.