Airbnb Laws: Top 10 US Cities

With 50 states, 3,000 counties, and 35,000 cities and towns, America is a big place. There are probably new Airbnb laws popping up somewhere nearly every day. Things will settle down eventually, but until then, vacation rental hosts and owners will want to keep up with the general trend of new short term rental laws emerging across the US. There’s no better place to start than in America’s ten most populous cities.

Note that we are not offering legal advice. This is a fluid area of the law and regulations are changing rapidly. Please conduct your own research and discuss your options with a qualified attorney.

Last Update: August 2019

#1 New York City Airbnb Laws

  • Stays of less than 30 days are prohibited in all buildings with 3 or more units unless the permanent resident is present, under the New York State Multiple Dwelling Law (MDL, revised 2010).
  • If the resident is present, up to two (2) paying guests can stay for less than 30 days, but only if all occupants have unfettered access to all rooms (no locking bedrooms).
  • Given how few single-family homes and duplexes exist in NYC, nearly all short term rentals of entire units are illegal.
  • Fines for advertising short term rentals that violate the MDL range from $1,000 – $7,500 per listing. Ouch!
  • Also notable: The MDL is 161 pages! | NYC’s Office of Special Enforcement is not messing around | Subpoenas are flying and Airbnb is complying

#2 Los Angeles Short Term Rental Laws

  • As of July 1, 2019, all short term rental hosts must register their property with the city and pay a fee.
  • Hosts can only have one property registered at a time and it must be their primary residence.
  • Tenants are required to have prior written approval from the property owner before listing a short term rental.
  • Rent-stabilized units are not eligible for short term rental.
  • Total rental days are capped at 120 per year, unless host is approved for “extended home sharing,” which involves paying a hefty fee and demonstrating a track record of compliance. The law makes no distinction between hosted and un-hosted stays.
  • Also notable: Someone forgot to invite the California Coastal Commission to the party and they’re not happy | This 4-page FAQ breaks it down for you

#3 Chicago Vacation Rental Laws

  • Chicago has some of the most complicated short term rental regulations in the world. It’s a multi-layered system of registration, licensing, and verification requirements that’ll make your head spin.
  • Since June 2016, Chicago hosts have been required to obtain a license from the city, which isn’t exactly easy. Listing platforms are also required to get approval to operate in Chicago, and only Airbnb and Homeaway have done so.
  • Short term rentals are only permitted in single-family homes or 2, 3, and 4-unit buildings if the unit is the host’s primary residence. Only one unit per property can be licensed at a time.
  • In buildings with 5+ units, only up to 6 units or 25% of the total number of units can be licensed, whichever is less.
  • Hosts looking to rent out a unit that’s not their primary residence, can apply for an “adjustment” from the City, provided that: 1) the building is a single family home or has 4 units or fewer, 2) advance notice is provided to adjoining neighbors, 3) a recommendation is obtained from the relevant alderman, and 4) an official evaluation determines that granting the adjustment would not negatively impact the public. Whew! Good luck with that…
  • The City also publishes a “prohibited buildings list,” to which HOAs and building owners can voluntarily add their properties. The City then enforces a blanket ban on short term rental activity (and licenses) at the listed addresses.
  • Also notable: Some light reading anyone? | More than 2,000 buildings are already prohibited | Calling all actual plaintiffs

#4 Houston Airbnb Regulations

  • While Houston has an existing ordinance governing hotel and motel operations, there are currently no laws in place to specifically address Airbnb and/or short term rentals.
  • Property-rights friendly Texas state lawmakers have twice in recent years attempted to preempt local STR regulations across the state, but no statewide regulations have passed.
  • Also notable: The Texas Supreme Court likes STRs | The real fight is in Austin

#5 Phoenix Short Term Rental Regulations

  • Similar to Houston’s notable lack of specific short term rental ordinances, vacation rentals are largely unregulated in Phoenix.
  • A statewide law passed in 2017 expressly prohibits most local regulation of short term rentals across Arizona, much to the chagrin of more progressive cities like Tucson and Sedona.
  • Currently in Phoenix, short term rentals are governed by existing zoning regulations and not much else. There are no residency requirements, no annual caps on nights rented, and no limit on the number of short term rental properties a host can operate.
  • State and local lodging taxes are collected automatically by the major listing platforms and hosts are required to post their tax license number on all ads and listings.
  • Also notable: “Party on, Ducey?” | Tax license numbers now mandatory across AZ

#6 Philadelphia Vacation Rental Regulations

  • In Philadelphia, renting out your home or a portion thereof is referred to as Limited Lodging, under a (mostly) reasonable ordinance dating to 2015.
  • Hosts can only rent out their primary residence, short term rental nights are limited to 180 per calendar year, and there’s also a maximum of 3 occupants allowed, which (strangely) includes the host if present during the rental.
  • A “Limited Lodging Home” permit is only required for hosts who rent more than 90 days per year.
  • If the property is not the host’s primary residence or the intention is to rent for more than 180 days per year, hosts must apply for a “Visitor Accommodations” use.
  • Also notable: It’s another story in South Jersey | PA Supreme Court to rule on “party in the Poconos” case

#7 San Antonio Airbnb Rules

  • San Antonio adopted a two-tiered short term rental ordinance in 2018, which distinguishes between rentals in which the host lives on the property and all others.
  • For hosts who make the rental property their primary residence (Type 1), vacation rentals are allowed throughout the city with few restrictions.
  • For non-owner-occupied properties (Type 2), the number of short term rental permits are limited to 12.5% of each residential block. There’s also a process to appeal the density restrictions and some existing Type 2 rentals are “grandfathered” going forward.
  • Also notable: The 8-2 vote was right down the middle | The state may have something to say

#8 San Diego Short Term Rental Rules

  • San Diego can’t seem to make up its mind when it comes to short term rentals. A tough new ordinance passed in July 2018 was then rescinded a few months later under threat of a popular referendum.
  • In the absence of the new regulations, pre-existing housing and use codes appear to ban all short term rental activity across the city, but enforcement is non-existent.
  • The July 2018 ordinance, which never went into effect, would have legalized short term rentals of primary residences up to 6 months per year, while banning them outright in non-owner-occupied homes when the host isn’t present. The latter provision brought the ire of Airbnb and Homeaway, which funded the push for a referendum to repeal the new laws.
  • Also notable: The path forward is looking rocky | The La Jolla peanut gallery speaks

#9 Dallas Vacation Rental Rules

  • In keeping with Texas’ long tradition of applying a “light touch” when it comes to government regulation, Dallas does not appear to regulate short term rentals beyond existing ordinances that apply to all types of rental properties across the city.
  • Since 2010, owners of non-owner occupied rental properties, long term and short term, have been required to register and pay a (small) annual fee.
  • Also notable: Dallas ADU rentals are finally legal | It’s a different story over in Arlington

#10 San Jose Airbnb Laws

  • In San Jose, short term rentals are regulated by the zoning code requirements for “incidental transient occupancy.”
  • The right to offer incidental transient occupancy is reserved for hosts who occupy the property for at least 60 consecutive days with the intent to establish it as their primary residence.
  • If the host is present, short term rentals are allowed up to a maximum of 3 guests in single-family homes and only 2 guests in multifamily dwellings. There is no cap on the annual number of nights a host can book short term rentals if they are present.
  • When the host is not present, annual bookings are capped at 180 days and the maximum number of guests is 2 per studio, 3 per one-bedroom unit, and 2 per bedroom for larger units, up to an absolute max of 10 guests regardless of number of bedrooms.
  • Also notable: Actually, there’s nothing to see here…

Looking back over the list, it’s remarkable how few similarities there seem to be between the approaches taken by each of America’s top ten cities to regulating Airbnbs. Some, like Houston, Phoenix, and Dallas have done virtually nothing. New York City seems intent on enforcing its outright ban, while others like Los Angeles and Chicago have developed complicated regulatory regimes with annual caps, appeal processes, exemptions, and all sorts of other nuances.

If nothing else, the patchwork of Airbnb laws emerging across the US reinforces the fact that real estate is still a local business, even in the age of big tech and global “connection.”