Airbnb Sunday deactivated thousands of listings in Boston to comply with a new city law, shrinking its footprint in the area significantly. Most of the listings advertised on the platform in Boston the week prior violated local rules, which require, among other things, that short-term rental hosts register with the city before appearing on sites like Airbnb.
Earlier this year, Airbnb boasted upwards of 6,000 listings in Boston, yet local officials say the city has only approved registration for 737 short-term rentals at present. Airbnb would not say how many listings it removed—only that the company did what it was legally required to do—but even the most conservative estimates put the total between 3,000 and 5,000.
The move comes on the heels of a lengthy legal battle between the city and Airbnb. In November 2018, Airbnb sued Boston in federal court challenging an ordinance that aimed to discourage hosts from converting homes and apartments into de facto hotels. In addition to requiring that hosts register with the city, the ordinance restricted short-term rentals to spaces where the owner is present, and required that platforms like Airbnb share information with local officials and take down listings that did not comply with city rules.
Airbnb objected to the latter two provisions, arguing in court that the requirements were unconstitutional and technologically infeasible. It’s an argument the company has made before in lawsuits against San Francisco, and Miami Beach and Palm Beach, Florida, among others. But it largely hasn’t stuck. When Airbnb settled its lawsuit against Boston in August, it agreed to provisions that were largely similar to those that it had objected to the year prior, including a requirement that it purge illegal listings starting December 1.
It’s one of many recent moves by Airbnb to end lawsuits and defuse conflicts with regulators as the home-sharing service prepares to go public in 2020. After months of objections, Airbnb in September agreed to turn over data about hosts to regulators in Portland and comply with local short-term rental rules. The month prior, the company settled its lawsuit against Miami Beach, agreeing to pay the city $380,000, purge some illegal listings, and be subject to fines if it fails to follow the city’s stipulations.
In May, Airbnb agreed to turn over data on some hosts and reservations that had been subpoenaed by New York City officials, despite years of hostilities. However, the company is still embroiled in multiple lawsuits in the area, and recently waged an aggressive—and unsuccessful—multi-million-dollar campaign across the river to convince Jersey City residents to overturn short-term rental regulations.
“We are proud to have found a path forward for home sharing with the city of Boston,” Airbnb spokesperson Liz DeBold Fusco said in an emailed statement. “Over the past several months, we have been working with our community to make them aware of their role within this new regulatory framework, and we have reached every one of our hosts in Boston with information on the registration requirements.”
DeBold Fusco said Airbnb is prepared to work with Boston officials “to take the appropriate action against listings that have not provided a license number, so that they are no longer available as short-term rentals.”
When pressed for more specifics as to the number of listings that were taken down, DeBold Fusco said the question was better directed to city.
Lisa Timberlake of Boston’s Inspectional Services Department said the city had no special knowledge of Airbnb’s enforcement actions. “The City will receive Airbnb’s December activity report next month, which will capture any listings that were removed following the December 1 deadline to register.”
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