Letter to the Editor

Help strengthen short-term rental ordinance

The following letter was submitted to the City Council and to the Boston Sun for publication

Dear Editor:

I write on behalf of Stop Child Predators, a nonprofit organization that combats the sexual exploitation of children and represents and protects victims nationwide.
Parents, community leaders, and government officials have a duty to protect the youngest and most innocent among us – our children. Mayor Walsh’s short-term rental ordinance is a strong first step in protecting the tens of thousands of children across the City of Boston and in your district. As a city council member, you can strengthen the ordinance by stripping out the commercial investor provisions and stopping the influx of strangers coming and going in our neighborhoods.
It is not surprising that every parent faces multiple challenges in raising their family.  What may be surprising, however, is the safety challenge parents face with the influx of Airbnb short-term rentals into neighborhoods.  With a revolving door of strangers coming and going from short-term rental properties, tools like sex offender lists are becoming obsolete as there is no safeguard in place to stop a child predator from renting an Airbnb property next door.  
The growth of these short-term rentals, stemming from the influx of commercial interests buying up residential units to rent on sites like Airbnb, has become a significant concern among parents and law enforcement agencies across the country. 
According to a [Minneapolis] Star-Tribune article last fall, an Airbnb guest staying at a rental in Minnetonka, Minn.,, was charged with an attempted sexual assault of a 7-year-old living in the house the family  rented.  Over the last year, there have been numerous stories in cities across the country, of Airbnb rentals being used for prostitution, drug trafficking, gang activity and out-of-control parties, which have led to violence and shootings in residential neighborhoods.  
Because of these negative impacts, many cities and states across the country have enacted short-term safeguards to protect residents, children, and the community fabric that make up neighborhoods. 
This debate is not about private property rights.  It is about common-sense protections for our children and neighborhoods throughout Boston.  Individuals and families should absolutely be able to rent out their primary residence, allowing true home sharing to occur.  But this process is being taken advantage of by commercial interests who are not necessarily vested in the community.
Airbnb certainly does not condone such bad behaviors, and most of their hosts and guests have good intentions and are law-abiding citizens. But Airbnb has not done enough to combat the unacceptable actions of its operators and guests, which have included installing illegal hidden cameras, filming pornography, setting up marijuana grow rooms, trashing homes, and stealing items, all documented in a recent USA Today article.  Airbnb says it conducts background checks on its hosts and users.  But their vetting process has clearly failed as new horror stories are reported on almost every day.  Google “Airbnb and hidden cameras.”  Google “Airbnb and prostitution.”  Google “Airbnb and crime.”  The stories are real and should not be ignored. 
I ask you to consider your own neighborhood.  Think about your next-door neighbors and those across the street.  What if your neighbors moved away and their homes were converted into short-term rentals or mini-hotels, replacing your neighbors with a revolving door of complete strangers and transients?
How would you feel, if you are a parent of young children, about your kids playing outside in the cul-de-sac, riding bikes, or playing ball when you have no idea who is renting out the place next door and have no real way of finding out? 
Mayor Walsh’s short-term rental ordinance must be strengthened by stripping out the commercial investor provisions prior to adoption, so that Boston neighborhoods are protected and don’t become overrun by complete strangers and potential bad actors.

Stacie Rumenap

President, Stop Child Predators

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