Newport, RI’s AirBnB Crisis: Time For A Ban?

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The AirBnB situation is coming to a head as a Newport landlord gets fined $15k for illegal short-term rentals.

The app/gig-based economy is bringing big changes to our city. We have never seen a phenomenon take off as quickly as AirBnB in Newport, RI. A quick glance on the website reveals “300+” rooms, apartments and houses available for short-term rentals in Newport, which is presents a sizeable alternative to Newport’s ~900 hotel rooms and ~350 B&B rooms. As is usually the case with these kinds of big shifts, they come with some pretty serious problems which the city and its residents are struggling to deal with. Meanwhile, the experiences of other cities and towns overrun by AirBnB can give as a view of what is to come.

Newport’s rules for AirBnb and other short-term rentals

According to Newport ordinances there are rules and regulations that must be abided by for guest houses. First, a building must be zoned for it. The city has a map available online that tells you where guest houses are allowed to operate. Newport, RI AirBnB Short-Term Rental Zoning MapHere’s the map. Areas in yellow are zoned for guest houses. Areas in blue are zoned for “Temporary Housing for Yachting Organizations”. (Click image for a larger copy):

Here are other ordinances that apply to Newport Guest Houses:

  • The property must be registered with the City Clerk as a short term rental unit, or guest house.
  • $20 Registration Fee per Unit
  • $25 Inspection Fee per Unit
  • The property may be inspected by the Minimum Housing Inspector as part of the registration process.
  • Properties in zones not permitting Guest Houses by right, may apply for a Special Use Permit through the Zoning
    Board of Review. The application is available through the Zoning & Inspections Department web page.
  • Properties must meet an off street parking requirement of one space per bedroom.


If you don’t want to go through the hassle of any of that, you can throw your place on AirBnB today and start making money tomorrow. That is how most of Newport’s short-term landlords have been operating…though that might be changing soon.

The Daily News reported that a Massachusetts woman who had been renting her Houston Ave. property as an unregistered guest house was fined $15k for her illegal rentals. Dawn Smith of Hopkinton was ordered to pay $3800 immediately with the remainder of the fine suspended provided she isn’t busted for illegal rentals in the next year.

One interesting aspect of the case was that it was the property’s neighbors who amassed all the evidence needed to convict Smith after being told the challenges of prosecuting the zoning violations.

In addition, the city has enlisted the services of Host Compliance LLC, a software company that checks AirBnB and 50 similar websites to check listing and look for illegal rentals.

Up Next: Where are Newport’s workers supposed to live?

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