Heading to a short term rental on the Cape? Or a weekend getaway to see fall foliage? If you book a place to stay through popular online sites—how do you know if the rental is safe, or inspected? You may have no idea and neither do city and town officials. Hank Investigates.
Flames raced through this Somerville triple decker – residents jumping out windows to safety.
Gowri, who rented an apartment here, lost almost everything that January night.
Gowri, who lived in Triple Decker: “It was scary it was confusing.”
What Gowri didn’t know was part of her building was being rented as an Airbnb.
And she wasn’t the only one who didn’t know. Somerville officials only found out because of the fire.
After they investigated, they notified the owner that she’d “illegally” converted a unit of the building into a short term rental.
Hank: “What’s at stake here?”
Jack Connolly, Alderman-at-Large, Somerville: “People’s lives.”
Is the short term rental you’re about to book safe? Does it have smoke detectors and fire alarms and enough exits?
We found Massachusetts has no specific state rules for these places. That leaves each community on its own.
Somerville does have rules and wants short-term landlords to register their properties so the units can be inspected.
When we checked, city records showed only four rentals.
But when we looked on just one national rental website, it showed more than a dozen! And Somerville officials now tell us they suspect the number is more like 800.
Connolly: “It’s amazing to see how many there are and how many people are taking advantage of it.”
And there’s not much officials can do. They can’t track down the listings they see online because the sites don’t reveal addresses.
It’s not just happening in Somerville.
In Lynnfield, officials only found out this home was a short term rental when it became a murder scene.
In Wellesley, only after police arrived to shut down a wild party.
Hank: “Unless something bad happens in one of those units you wouldn’t know?”
Denise Taylor, spokesperson for the City of Somerville: “Unless there’s a fire or a complaint of some other form of disaster, we won’t know.”
So what can you do to make sure you’re renting a safe place? Industry experts tell us “check the reviews.” But some worried Massachusetts lawmakers are now pushing for strict statewide regulations. That’s 7 investigates, I’m Hank Phillippi Ryan.
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