Change of Use Proposed for 784 Tremont St; Managers Want Lodging House

In anticipation of the city’s short term rental ordinance sunset provision ending on Sept. 1, an abutters meeting for a proposal at 784 Tremont St., led by Faisa Sharif of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, was held on July 30 outside the property. Since 2011, the building has been operating as a furnished short-term rental property with six units, according to Scott Kirkwood, Project and Asset Manager for Boston Real Estate Collaborative, which manages the building.

The property managers are requesting a change of use to a “lodging house,” so it will be allowed to continue functioning as short-term rental units, once the City’s short-term rental ordinance kicks in for all units on September 1. The ordinance limits short term stays to owner-operator’s primary residence or an owner-adjacent unit for a fee, (stays less than 28 days) and to hotels and lodging houses.

Kirkwood said the “biggest thing to note” is that while this is a change of use, they would continue to rent these units out if the change is not granted. They would contract with hospitals  and businesses, because under the new ordinance, “units used for furnished or institutional business stays are not considered short-term rentals,” and stays must be at least ten days in length.

“Ultimately, you wouldn’t notice any change now other than what you would have seen when the building was finished,” Kirkwood said.

“There’s a sunset provision for buildings like this,” Brent Berc, a founding parter of Boston Real Estate Collaborative, told neighbors. “We can’t register [under the new ordinance] because we would not be compliant with the ordinance unless we were able to convert to a lodging house.”

Right now, the property managers said that Airbnb is “one of the avenues” used to rent these furnished rooms, and an average stay is six or seven nights. “We do take one-night stays, but they are few and far between,” Berc said. In the summertime, there are more short stays for $125-$200 per night, and in the winter, people are looking for longer stays and are charged $1,800 and up a month, Berc said.

One neighbor said he was concerned about the rooms being used as places to have parties, as he said other units in the area have been used for that purpose.

“These units are so small; it’s difficult to have a large gathering,” Berc said.

If anyone has any complaints, “we’re more than open with our information,” Kirkwood said. “I give everyone my card.”

Carol Blair, President of the Chester Square Neighbors, said that she would prefer if someone was onsite within the building to handle any issues that may arise. Berc said the model of traditional bed and breakfasts “when you want to see someone at the front door and have breakfast with them” are fading away, and people are looking for the newer model where they can enter the property on their own terms and only speak to someone if necessary.

“To put a full-time, salaried person here is just not possible,” he said. “Generally, most people don’t meet us and don’t want to meet us.”

“If there’s a major problem, we’re rushing out here,” Kirkwood added. He said the problems are fixed day-of, and the next day at the latest.

Kirkwood said he believes this area is a good one for short-term rentals, as it’s a high traffic, “very mixed used area” where people who stay in the rooms can become patrons of the local businesses. Additionally, a small percentage of the renters use the parking, and he said that Boston Real Estate Collaborative urges people to use public transportation rather than try and park a car.

“We have been operating this business as-is for the better part of eight years,” Berc said. “We have not been perfect and there are opportunities to improve.

In return for support from the neighborhood for the change in use, Berc proposed contributing a “community benefit” of sorts for the people who are in the immediate area of 784 Tremont St.

Aside from the management team spending “a considerable amount of time in the alley” and putting. Pest control regimen there, Berc proposed a feasibility study at the cost of the management study and propose a plan to fix the broken sewer line in the alley behind the building. The plan would be presented to those who would be splitting the cost of it, and they would like to get the city to take ownership of the line once it’s fixed.

“We have already processed a lot of this,” said a neighbor who has been working on the sewer issue for some time.

“I understand being more accountable,” Berc said. He said that more visible contact information and being more present at meetings is something they can commit to in order to be a good neighbor.  

Another neighbor said that he likes the property and wants to support it, but a “good balance” must be kept and the future of the neighborhood considered at the management level.

Sharif said that the neighbors will reconvene with the management team in a few weeks to further discuss the project and any community benefits and concerns from the neighbors.

“I do think the sewer project is a good idea,” Berc said, “but we can talk about what else people may want in return for support.”

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