By Sue Ellen Woodcock
There have been reports of people showing up at a house after midnight, trailing a suitcase, not knowing where exactly they are and sometimes showing up at the wrong address. Many have come to Winthrop after signing up for Air BnB, a service that matches travelers with available rooms in local homes.
“This is the talk of the east coast,” said Town Manager James McKenna. “Winthrop is particularly poised because of its location.”
But in Winthrop the Air BnB locations have been told to cease and desist by Al Legee, head of inspectional services, after several officials questioned the safety and set up of these rooms. Some have had locks on the bedroom doors and some do not have proper means of egress.
“There are 15 locations that we have visited about this,” Legee said. “For now they won’t operate until we pass an ordinance.”
Legee said he had to check for licenses, safety issues, building code violations, health code violations and sanitation. There is also the issue of taxes and fees.
“Some people do it once in a while for money and others do it as a social thing to meet people,” Legee said. “All’s well and good until it impacts the neighborhood.”
Legee said the idea of Air BnB also brings up questions of parking, safety, fire protection and separate bathrooms.
“You’re almost turning residential property into commercial,” Legee said. “To be a legal bed and breakfast the owner has to be on the premises at all times, serve breakfast, provide parking and have a special permit for the zoning board.”
There is only one legal B&B in Winthrop, the Harrington House on Terrace Avenue. The town is also in litigation regarding a Sargent Street property seeking bed and breakfast status.
“Most people want to see them made legal,” Legee said. “This is an acceptable practice worldwide, in Ireland, southeast Asia and the Pacific. We haven’t embraced that concept here.”
Air BnB claims to have over one million listings in 34,000 cities and 190 countries. Founded in 2008 by Brian Chesky of San Francisco.
According to state building codes one room is not considered a bed and breakfast. The zoning ordinances comes into play, especially when it states that no more than three unrelated people may live in the same dwelling.
Town Council President Peter Gill said “this is an obvious concern that could hurt or kill someone.”
He added that the idea of a bed and breakfast is a great thing, but he just wants them licensed.