New Buildings in the South End Offering Units By the Night

When one South End woman came home last month to her brand new unit in one of the neighborhood’s brand new apartment buildings, she got into the elevator and quickly was allegedly barraged by several rowdy Boston Bruins hockey fans.

It would be expected during playoff hockey time at a hotel in the area, but in the safety of one’s home, such a hotel atmosphere isn’t so welcoming.

“I felt very uncomfortable and I felt unsafe,” said the woman, who chose to remain anonymous. “This is my home. I pay a lot to live here and be comfortable and safe. It’s not a hotel. It’s my home.”

The hockey fans allegedly were not a rarity in the new building – located at 345 Harrison Ave. – and were just one example of many guests that residents of that building and other newer buildings say are staying in apartments just for the night – a de facto hotel in a time when the City, State and City Council had hoped that such things had been stopped with their Short-Term Rental laws. While many of those laws are challenged in court now by operators like AirBNB, a significant portion of the City ordinance moved forward on Jan. 1 – yet as it moves forward, new operators seemingly pop up unknowingly and fill in the many luxury apartment units quickly coming onto the market.

It’s often a shock to permanent residents settling into their new homes.

The Sun looked into the matter at 345 Harrison Ave. and learned that a New York company called Churchill Living had allegedly leased several units in the building and was allegedly offering them for short-term stays – sometimes as short as one night – while also allegedly offering access to amenities in the building like the gym and pool.

Using the online booking tool on Churchill’s website, the Sun was able to correspond with someone via e-mail, asking for that building specifically and then book a unit on the 9th floor of the building for $249 per night in late May.

Churchill did not respond to several e-mails looking for comment on how or why such a thing is allowed in Boston.

City officials, who were made aware of the situation by the Sun, said they were looking into that situation specifically and other similar things throughout the city.

In a statement, the Mayor’s Office told the Sun they continue to develop tools to aid in the enforcement of short term rentals. They said they will review the eligibility of this unit at 345 Harrison, and if it is not in accordance with the City’s regulations, the City will issue an enforcement letter to the responsible parties. 

The Mayor’s Office also said ISD is currently issuing enforcement letters to dwelling unit owners who are not eligible or registered to provide short term rental units. Ultimately, they said, non-complaint operators will be issued fines, and may be subject to additional legal action if they fail to respond to the fines.

The units at 345 Harrison Ave. allegedly leased by Churchill were not on the City’s registry as of Wednesday afternoon.

City Councilor Michelle Wu said the situation is exactly what they wanted to get rid of when they passed the ordinance last year to regulate short-term rentals. She said she planned to look into the situation as well, and at first glance, didn’t believe it was allowed.

South End Forum Moderator Steve Fox, who was a key member of the team from the Alliance of Downtown Civic Organizations (ADCO) that did the original research on short-term rentals two years ago, said this is one of the situations that has to be rooted out first as the ordinance starts to be enforced.

“I think allowing things under one host registration remains one of the biggest challenges,” he said. “We think the mom and pop short-term rentals offered are not the least of the problems. It’s the corporatization of short-term units…From my perspective, looking at Churchill and other consolidators – the big corporate nightly rental business – these are the ones to go after first. From what we understand in terms of the City’s response, Sept. 1 is the date when enforcement is going to become universal across the city.”

But for residents such as the woman confronted with what were essentially hotel guest in her apartment building, rooting such things out couldn’t come quick enough.

Another resident of the same neighborhood (who also wished to remain anonymous) said there are many others buildings.

He said it was his understanding that these buildings also rent out luxury apartment units by the night.

The Sun went online to a company called Sonder, and confirmed that they are offering apartment units by the night in the apartment building at the corner of East Berkeley and Harrison Avenue – at an average cost this month of $362 per night for an “airy 3BR in South End.”

A “cozy 2BR” in the same building averaged $256 per night.

Several other units in the building were pictured and advertised as well.

There are no units in that building, at that address, that are on the City’s short-term rental registry.

Like Churchill, Sonder did not respond to an e-mail from the Sun looking for information on how they believe they are able to operate in the fashion that they are.

Fox said one of the key elements in the debate is the fact that there is a housing crisis in the City, and every unit is needed for residents and not for what amounts to a de facto hotel. He said he and others at ADCO believe that taking units in such buildings for short-term stays only exacerbates the housing supply and crisis.

“I think when the state law takes effect, that’s when you might see some bigger change because that’s when tax liability is incurred,” he said. “That’s a $300 fine plus the state coming after people. That’s a whole different animal.”

The City said residents who have questions or concerns about any potential short-term rental unit are encouraged to contact 311 so that the Inspectional Services Department is notified.

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