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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Hispanic group urges regulation of short-term rentals as numbers soar



Luis Daniel Lugo Orsini works at his food truck, Chicken Shack BBQ, which accepts six forms of cryptocurrency as payment, in Rincón, Puerto Rico, Jan. 13, 2022. Many Puerto Ricans say they can no longer afford to remain in their homes with outside investors buying up properties and driving up prices. (Erika P. Rodríguez/The New York Times)

By The Star Staff


In less than a decade the number of short-term rentals (STRs) in Puerto Rico has risen from about 1,000 in 2014 to more than 25,000 in 2023, according to a report released this week by the Hispanic Federation, a Latino nonprofit membership organization.


The report, entitled “Proposals for Reducing the Impact of Short-Term Rentals (STRs) on Community Displacement,” highlights the dramatic increase in STRs combined with the lack of robust regulation, which has led to significant community challenges across the archipelago such as limited housing access, displacement, and quality of life concerns. It also proposes community-driven solutions to mitigate those problems through fair and balanced regulations of this fast-growing tourism business.


Mariana Reyes, director of Taller Comunitaria la Goyco, a community-based nonprofit on Loíza Street in San Juan that participated in the report, noted that: “In the sector of Loíza Street, housing options have reduced significantly; however, there are 622 short-term rental units available. It is necessary to regulate that use to protect communities.”


Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia, however, has expressed misgivings about regulating the industry. In February 2023, the STAR reported that while short-term rentals such as Airbnb rentals are a popular investment in Puerto Rico, the industry is tightly controlled by a few short-term rental firms, one of which belongs to the governor’s son, a situation that has resulted in increasing rental and property prices that are displacing the middle class and the poor. Since then, there has been talk about regulating the industry.


The community-driven recommendations from the Hispanic Federation include classifying certain short-term rentals as businesses and applying the licenses, permits, and other applicable commercial activity requirements; distinguishing between owners of multiple short-term rental units from those with primary residences they occasionally rent out to supplement their income; increasing the room tax from its current 7% to a range of 9-11% to support oversight and public services; and community participation in decision-making, among other specific regulatory changes. None of the report’s participants recommended a ban on STRs, noting that the commercial activity has its benefits. However, they pointed out the urgency of regulating them to achieve a fair balance between the benefits and the negative impacts they may have on the community in which they are located.


The report was commissioned by the Hispanic Federation to El Enjambre and was produced through interviews with diverse, affected communities, STR sector representatives and experts, and other key stakeholders. With the report, Hispanic Federation is hoping to elevate community voices to inform and strengthen regulation of the STR industry in a way that will protect communities from displacement and promote long-term housing access.


“With so much to offer visitors, tourism will always be an important part of Puerto Rico’s economy,” said Frankie Miranda, president and CEO of Hispanic Federation. “However, it cannot come at the expense of Puerto Rico’s residents and communities. Lawmakers in Puerto Rico are responsible for balancing the opportunities created by short-term rentals with their primary duty to protect the rights and needs of communities. Ultimately, we hope this report will promote productive dialogue among the government and other stakeholders and present the urgency to pass strong and fair regulation now.”


According to the report, the aforementioned sharp increase in STRs has already led to several challenging changes in community dynamics and housing access on the island. The changes have also had an impact on residents’ quality of life and raised concerns about displacement, gentrification, and fair business competition.


Gloria Cuevas, a displaced community resident from Rincón now living in Mayagüez who shared her experiences in the report, said: “As a person who has been displaced multiple times by owners who preferred to convert their properties into short-term rentals, I understand that this phenomenon revealed the gap that exists between social classes and that every day is more present on our archipelago, as it is in many places of the world.”


“The ones with the most resources continue acquiring while those of us with less resources keep losing,” she said.


Between September and December 2022, El Enjambre met with residents from diverse impacted communities including Aguadilla, Rincón, Cabo Rojo, San Juan and Culebra, among others, as well as experts in planning, law and real estate and other key stakeholders such as the Condominium Titleholders Association, owners of other hospitality businesses, and the Hotels and Tourism Association. The report also included an analysis of STR regulations implemented in U.S. and international cities.


“The report seeks to articulate and present the point of view and recommendations of communities with a high density of short-term rentals, focusing on the impacts on housing and community life,” said Alejandro Cotté Morales, cofounder of El Enjambre and coauthor of the report, along with Lyvia N. Rodríguez del Valle, Mikael Rosa Rosa, and Raúl Santiago Bartolomei.


To continue the discussion started by the report and identify potential policy recommendations, the Hispanic Federation, in collaboration with the University of Puerto Rico Graduate School of Planning, and El Enjambre Colectivo, will hold a one-day summit in San Juan entitled “Nos Quedamos: Alternativas Justas Para Regular Los Arrendamientos a Corto Plazo en Puerto Rico” on Thursday March 7. The summit will feature multisector local, state and international voices with experience on the topic of STRs and housing, and includes a keynote by Leilani Farha, current global director of The Shift and former United Nations special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing. It will be attended by community leaders, hotel & tourism industry and government representatives, and experts on housing and planning, among others.


With respect to elevating the dialogue on the impacts of short-term rentals, Dulce del Río Piñeda, organizational coordinator for Mujeres de Islas, a community-based nonprofit in Culebra that also participated in the report, stated: “It’s up to each one of us to elevate the voices of the residents who inhabit Culebra, walking together toward collective solutions to ensure the permanence of this and future generations, the tenancy of vulnerable communities, and the right to return of those who could not stay.”


“If we don’t have a place to live, all the rest will go away; the essence of Culebra will vanish.”

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3 Comments


Deborah Marchant
Deborah Marchant
Mar 04

Hi, I am racially white, and I have lived in Puerto Rico for several years in a home that my white husband and I own. We are consciously aware of the “white privilege” we were born into, but this was not always the case.


When I was first told I have “white privilege” it was here in Puerto Rico online. I had never heard of this term before, and I naturally felt offended. It left like I was being told, “You are a bad person,” and then I predictably and ignorantly reacted by naming some of the ways I am not privileged. I insensitively listed some of my hardships. I did not receive this term with grace, but I did…


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William Rosa
William Rosa
Feb 23

It's certainly troubling the picture described in the article. Another invasion from the north, hungry to be pleased by PRico's natural beauty but also, perhaps unconsciously, selfish and uninterested in the real PR. The issue is the manner in which STRs has become a threat to local communities.

The question is why the PPD/PNP government has not implemented safeguards to protect these communities as well as the STR renters from the problems depicted in the article. Unfortunately, this is a well know defect of the "gobernadores de turno;" for whatever reason they since to be incapacitated to legislate to protect and to benefits Puerto Ricans and visitors. PR needs a significant change in the manner that is governed and the…


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Deborah Marchant
Deborah Marchant
Feb 24
Replying to

Hi William Rosa, and thanks for your input.


The question asking about why people are not implementing safeguards is an excellent question. An answer to this question can be found in understanding the social psychology research on how unconscious death anxiety influences human social behaviors.


The following short video clip goes briefly into this, and while it does focus on the American culture, the information is globally relevant to all human cultures, including Puerto Rico’s. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXZB9t_ypO4

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