Home Content CategoryThe Watchdog Neighborhoods are for Neighbors Not Motels

Neighborhoods are for Neighbors Not Motels

by Alan Neibauer

Airbnb is a $130 billion company with over 40 million active users. It has some 6 million listings in 220 countries. It has provided a path to income that never existed before and has revolutionized the travel and hospitality industry. See our previous article Short Term Rentals in Boca Raton’s Residential Neighborhoods for another view on this.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it. It is, except if you live next door to one.

Actually, it is not that simple. While most people object to having an Airbnb next door to them, others tell me it isn’t that bad. They think owners, called hosts, take better care of the property to attract renters, and they have seen examples when owners and renters have helped each other. They also feel the added income that their neighbors make is overall a good thing. Some of that money can go back into fixing up their property.

Unfortunately, there are enough horror stories to make neighbors wary and object to living next to or near an Airbnb rental.

  • Just this April, two teenagers were killed and 11 wounded when 200 people attended a party at an Airbnb in Pittsburgh
  • In March, six New York college students overdosed in an Airbnb in Wilton Manor. The quiet neighborhood was flooded with police cars and news crews.
  • An apartment in London was turned into a pop-up brothel.
  • A home in upstate New York was rented by a gang of drug dealers.
  • A family in the suburbs were waken up all through the night by Airbnb renters who were given the wrong address.
  • Someone rented a house and threw a rave party for hundreds of people.

Providence Police Find Trail of Blood, Guns, Knives at East Side Airbnb Party Saturday Night

Renting to the wrong people can not only destroy the rental house itself, but it can be a terrible, and even dangerous, situation for neighbors. Luckily, short term rentals are illegal in Boca Raton. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. 

According to the site AIRDNA.CO, which tracks Airbnb and Verbo, there are some 323 short term rentals in “Boca Raton”,  the city and unincorporated.  The picture at the top of this article shows whole home rentals in dark blue, private rooms in lighter blue. Some squares on that map represent multiple units at the same location, so don’t bother counting them. The statistics do not correlate with Boca Raton city boundaries. But the following map shows rentals by zip codes that contain areas within the City.  As expected, the highest concentration is toward the east. The three east-most zones total 198 rentals: 33432 with 92, 33431 with 66, and 33487 with 40. Zip code 33486 has 29, 33433 as 22, 33434 has 13, and 33496 just 6 rentals. The remaining 55 rentals counted by AIRDNA are in far west Boca, Highland Beach, or whatever fringe areas they include.

Here in Boca

The city of Boca Raton won’t act against an Airbnb unless it receives a formal complaint by a resident. The complaint must include the resident’s name and address which goes into the public record. Many people are hesitant about making this information public in fear of reprisal from the Airbnb host. 

While illegal, the city just doesn’t have the staff to track them all down. The actual address of the rental property is not included in the online listing. It is divulged only to the renter after they commit to the reservation and pay a deposit. While each listing on the Airbnb website shows an approximate location on a map, it would take untold hours for inspectors to drive around looking for them. In condo buildings, the building itself may be easier to find, but not the exact unit within the building.

Renting a room in your house or a detached garage for less than six months is illegal.

According to Boca Raton’s code, the only allowed use for short term rentals is in motels. Motels are not allowed in any single-family zones. Any short-term or transient use, whether for an entire house, any part of a house, or a condominium for less than six months is illegal.  So, renting a room in your house, or a detached garage for less than six months is prohibited.  Motels are allowed in multifamily zones R-B-1 or R-5-A, but only after getting approved by City Council for a conditional use.

How can you tell if there is an Airbnb in your neighborhood? Look for different people going in and out over a short period time. Look for them to have luggage, or at least carrying on bags. A trick some hosts play is to tell the renters that if anyone asks, tell them they are relatives or friends using the house for a few days.

Here’s some Airbnb listings in Boca

Some examples taken from Airbnb include are full house for $350 per night, located just west of the A1A near NE 4th street, right near the beach, shown here.

There is another near Palmetto Park Road near Spanish Trail, just off the intracoastal going for $349 a night. Many others are west of the intracoastal, such as a one-bedroom cottage west of Dixie near SW 2nd street, for $219 a night. Looking to spend less? There is a guest suite in someone’s home near NE 36th Street several block west of Federal Highway  for $69 a night with a swimming pool. For a seasonal owner, or one with a detached cottage on their property, this extra money can be very enticing.

Someone also told me to look for houses that have removed their mailboxes, because it doesn’t look good for mail to accumulate since renters won’t bother taking it in. Some hosts even prohibit guests from receiving mail at that location because of a scam that creates a fake business at the host’s address. Imagine the owner’s surprise when they start getting letters of complaint for an unknown business at their address.

Airbnb has been fighting back

Banning Airbnb’s in a city has been a controversial subject, weighing the protection of neighbors against the growing financial benefit for homeowners.  Airbnb has been fighting back against cities that ban them, going as far as encouraging their members to protest. The company spent half a million dollars to fight the ban in San Diego, and has sued Boston, Miami, and Palm Beach County. And Airbnb hosts sometimes take it out on neighbors, even though most of them know what they are doing is illegal but continue to do so. Sometimes the money is just too hard to resist.

Over the years, Airbnb has changed from a grassroots effort of residents trying to extra money, to a professional business model. Once the investors became involved, users now have sophisticated computer programs to calculate rental rates and even accelerate property depreciation. 

But things can change. Years ago, the Sun and Surf community on Federal Highway experienced a rash of Airbnb listings. But as home prices skyrocketed, the more affluent buyers had no interest in sharing their homes.

It’s not just Airbnb

Airbnb isn’t the only culprit out there. There is also VRBO, Zillow Rentals, and a new company called Pacaso that buys resort homes, many in ski resorts and Napa Valley, and sells shares to up to eight co-owners. Many hosts bypass the Airbnb platform and privately rent their properties through Facebook, other websites pages, and even through realtors. 

Whatever mechanism a person uses to illegally rent their property, and you object to it, If you suspect a house near you is being used as a short term rental, call Code Enforcement. You’ll need to give them the address of the property, and your name and address.  Violators can be fined up to $1000 per day, enough to discourage most casual hosts.

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