North Adams ad hoc committee to address Airbnb, Uber regulation

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NORTH ADAMS — Visitors looking for a hotel in North Adams will only find a few options.

But those who expand their search to include Airbnb — an online platform that connects renters and homeowners with people seeking a place to stay — will find more than 150 nearby choices.

The City Council last week agreed to form an ad hoc committee to discuss how to address new phenomena such as Airbnb and similar Internet-based, "shared economy" services like the ridesharing apps Uber and Lyft.

Prompted by Council President Benjamin Lamb, the proposed five-member committee will discuss two main points: the safety regulations and taxation of these services. Because it is an ad hoc committee, it could include members who are not on the City Council.

The shared economy services are largely unregulated not only in North Adams, but nationwide.

"I'm not against these programs, I just think it's good for us to proactive in this process," Lamb said.

Lamb argued that "there is little in the way of review or inspection by the hosting service provider," and that the committee should look to address how the city could hold service providers to the same standards already met by traditional businesses.

Councilor Keith Bona noted that Airbnb is a "bit of a loophole" around regulations that require a certificates of occupancy issued by the building inspector. In the case of Uber and Lyft, the city regulations on taxi businesses, which must be licensed, could also come into play.

The committee will also look into the taxation of these services. Under the city's current laws, guests at traditional hotels must pay a hotel/motel tax, but Airbnb users to not face the same fees.

But Airbnb has worked with other regions to implement taxes similar to those that impact traditional businesses, Lamb noted.

"As a city we should review if this is an approach we would like to take, and establish how we wish to implement any new plans of this type," Lamb said.

In addition the taxes, there are also licensing fees for traditional businesses, Councilor Lisa Blackmer said.

"If we've got these people that are renting out their house and it's one weekend or two weekends, it's not an issue. But if they're doing it regularly, it's not fair to those who are following the rules," Blackmer said.

The council expects to have the committee formed by April.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376.


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