CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — Time was when renting an apartment in one of this college town’s funky triple-deckers or two-family homes wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg.
Now, renting in Cambridge can feel like that — something critics say is made tougher by short-term rental websites like Airbnb, through which property owners can make more money renting out apartments or homes by the night instead of a yearlong lease.
The debate over services like Airbnb — often criticized for essentially turning apartments into hotel rooms, putting upward pressure on housing costs and driving out longer-term tenants who can’t afford rising rents — has raged for years in major cities. But it is also keenly felt in event-heavy college towns, particularly ones that also are tourist destinations or are near them, like Cambridge, next to Boston.
Jennifer McConnell, a high school Spanish teacher who rents out rooms in her Cambridge brownstone through Airbnb, said she’d otherwise have trouble covering her expenses.
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“It’s been a game changer both financially, because it’s allowed me to stay in my home, but also emotionally because it’s filled up my home with guests,” said McConnell, whose guests included a woman from Germany who stayed for seven weeks while taking a graduate course at Harvard.
Short-term rentals have caused enough concern in Cambridge that the city council last month approved new regulations requiring people offering short-term rentals to live in the same building and undergo an inspection once every five years.
Picturesque Boulder, home to the University of Colorado, last year began requiring property owners to have a license to rent to visitors. Evanston, Illinois, a Chicago suburb that is home to Northwestern University, also has beefed up rules on rentals of less than 30 days.
Massachusetts Lodging Association President Paul Sacco hailed the Cambridge rules, saying they’re needed to prevent “illegal hotels” in the city.
Airbnb said it is not to blame for spiking housing costs. Only a small percentage of the Cambridge housing stock — about 140 homes or apartments — are rented through its website for more than 172 nights a year, it said. That’s Airbnb’s estimate for someone who is effectively doing short-term rental as a business.
Interest in renting rooms through Airbnb often jumps during graduation or a big football game,…