Stop Child Predators, a nonprofit organization that combats the sexual exploitation of children and represents and protects victims national wide is asking Boston City Councilors to help strengthen Mayor Martin Walsh’s short-term rental ordinance by removing provisions that allow for commercial investors.
The non-profit organization believes the short-term ordinance is a strong first step in protecting the tens of thousands of children across the City of Boston, but believes it can be strengthened by stripping out the commercial investor provisions and stopping the influx of strangers coming and going in out of the neighborhoods.
“Commercial investors are starting to buy up entire buildings, or multiple units within a building or entire houses with no safe guards in place,” said Stacie Rumenap, president, Stop Child Predators. “You’re putting your families at risk and the community fabric is no longer there.”
Stop Child Predators pointed to a number of safety challenges parents face with the influx of Airbnb and other short-term rentals in the 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.
Reports have shown numerous stories in cities across the country of short-term rental units being used for prostitution, drug trafficking, gang activity and out-of-control parties, which have led to violence and shootings in residential neighborhoods.
Stop Child Predators, who are based in Washington D.C., have reached out to other cities in Florida, Tennesse and the west coast.
“Residents across the country have started to say, ‘I don’t know my neighbors anymore,’” said Rumenap. “We see it as a trend that is happening throughout the country. It’s not just one city or state’s concern, it’s multiple parts of cities and states being inundated.”
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.
Examples include limiting the amount of days renters can put their units on the market or limiting how many people they can rent to in a year. Mayor Walsh’s ordinance puts a 90-day limit on rentals, but many residents shared concerns on how that still leaves enough weekends open to make a unit profitable without having to put it back on the traditional housing market.
“When you don’t have long-term tenants, you loose the opportunity to get to know your neighbors,” said Rumenap. “Whose home are you going to send your children if there’s an emergency? Really, it’s about having a revolving door of strangers and the safety concerns that come with that.”
Stop Child Predators believe individuals and families should have the right to rent out their primary residence, allowing true home sharing to occur. But they believe this process is being taken advantage of by commercial interests who are not necessarily vested in the community.
Rumenap said that Airbnb and other short-term rental units certainly do not condone such bad behaviors, and most of their guests have good intentions and are law-abiding citizens.
“The idea of sharing a home or a shared bedroom to generate extra income while the family is on vacation is very different concerns because the owners are there,” said Rumenap. “But the commercial investors have no connection to the community and have no incentive to have one.”
Stop Child Predators believe, Airbnb and other short-term rentals have 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, stealing items, and more.
One example that Rumenap pointed to is the influx of human trafficking that surrounds the Super Bowl, which recently has been brought to the spotlight. Short-term rentals, she said, make it easier to do illegal, underground things, especially with minors, when there’s zero supervision or oversight.
“Airbnb or HomeAway don’t want to see illegal things happening in their properties either,” said Rumenap. “We would like to see them come to the table and come up with more solutions.”
Rumenap said they are trying to bring awareness on the possible dangers to families that can come with the influx of short-term rentals before it gets worse.
“We’re just trying to figure out a way to protect our families and give them the ability to have a community that knows their neighbors,” said Rumenap.
The Boston City Council has held a hearing and working session on the Mayor’s short-term rental ordinance but has not made a decision on this matter yet.