Why your Philly Airbnb won’t get shut down

Cease-and-desist letters have been showing up across the region.

Shannon Wink

Updated 6:30 p.m.

If you’re running an Airbnb in the Philly area, you might be wondering if your side hustle is in danger.

In the past year, several home vacation rental operators have been ordered by local government officials to shut down. Cease-and-desist letters have fallen on the doorsteps of people who list available rooms on the app, warning them to cut it out.

These stop orders have come from all over the region, including municipalities like Collingswood, Bethlehem and various towns in Bucks County.

Officials in each jurisdiction cited strict short-term rental regulations that prohibit people from renting out their property for less than a week at a time — ruling out your typical Airbnb stay.

So is your room-sharing operation in Philadelphia destined for the same fate?

As it turns out: no.

The 300-plus Airbnb rentals available in Philly are safe from being shut down, thanks to a 2015 law legalizing short-term rentals in the city.

You can thank the pope for that one.

No, seriously.

Philly’s current short-term rental regulations were enacted a few months before Pope Francis came to town for the World Meeting of Families. That’s when people started to realize there was the potential to make bank renting an extra bedroom to the influx of “pilgrims” expected to flood the city.

So City Council acted swiftly, passing an ordinance in July 2015 with a unanimous, 15-0 vote. It permitted short-term rentals on a few conditions — one of them being an 8.5 percent tax on all the profits.

The big pope-related Airbnb boom never really panned out, but it did have a lasting effect: the law legalizing it is still in place.

Dubbed “limited lodging,” the rule allows Philly folks to rent out their property to guests for a maximum of 30 days at a time, and a maximum of 180 days in the calendar year, with a few requirements:

  • You must have working smoke alarms on every floor, in each bedroom and in the hallways near bedrooms
  • And working carbon monoxide alarms within 15 feet of sleeping areas and five feet of cooking appliances
  • You can’t install lodging signs on the outside of your home
  • The home can’t be occupied by more than three people who are not related
  • You can’t make physical changes to your home to make it look less like a home (basically, don’t install a whole new entrance for guests)
  • It’s got to be your primary residence. If it isn’t, you’ll need to apply for a visitor accommodations variance.

If you can check all those boxes, you’re good to go.

For properties outside of Philadelphia, homeowners should check local regulations. In general, Pennsylvania allows Airbnb. In 2016, a year after Philly implemented its levy, Gov. Wolf signed a law requiring Airbnbers to collect and remand the state’s 6 percent hotel tax.

In New Jersey, politicians have tried to enact statewide regulations, but so far it’s still up to individual municipalities. One homeowner in Collingswood told PMN they plan to appeal that town’s regulation, but for now, that person is out of luck.


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AirBnb, Government