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Board rejects couple's plan to convert their East Boston Airbnb into a 'lodging house' so they can keep renting it out

A couple who owns a three-family house on Chelsea Street might have to try renting it out as three apartments after the Zoning Board of Appeal today rejected their request to reclassify it as a "lodging house" so that they could continue renting it out in short-term rentals.

Priscilla Mato and Jordan Lofaro started advertising the 193-195 Chelsea St. units, each of which have two bedrooms and their own bathroom, on Airbnb a couple of years ago. Last year, Mayor Walsh signed an ordinance banning short-term rental units in buildings where the owner doesn't live - in an effort to stop investors from buying up large swaths of apartments and squeezing out residents in favor of short-term Boston visitors.

Mayor Walsh signed the ordinance in 2018, but it did not go into effect until last year, after Airbnb agreed to drop a lawsuit over the new regulations.

Mato told the zoning board this morning that half of their rentals are for six months at a time, with the rest of the time for shorter stays, typically of a month. Their market, Mato said, is families who need a space for awhile - and room for their kids to play and a place to make dinner - professors working on projects and businesspeople working on longer "executive plans," rather than the really short-term guests the city ordinance was aimed at. The couple's attorney, Richard Lynds, added they are not typical Airbnb-rental investors with "hundreds of units."

Board Chairwoman Christine Araujo asked what would keep the couple from using their new lodging-house designation to sell the property to a larger investor who would start renting out each bedroom separately.

Lynds said the couple would be amenable to a restriction in the zoning approval or on the property's deed that the designation would apply only to his clients and would die with any sale of the property.

Araujo, though, said that would concern her as well, because people don't typically alert the board when they sell deed-restricted properties, and the board doesn't monitor Registry transactions. "That's not enough protection for the community," she said.

A neighborhood liaison for the mayor's office said that while some neighbors spoke in favor of the proposal at a neighborhood meeting, her office opposed the designation for policy reasons related to the new ordinance.

The board then voted 6-1 to deny the request.



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In a place with so many universities, there's a legitimate demand for medium-stay places such as this. Some students and faculty come here for a semester or over the summer and need a place that doesn't require a 1-year lease. While I'm in completely agreement with the reasoning for the AirBnB regulations, it would be good to have something permitting owners to meet this need.

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