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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Small inns ask for overhaul of bill to regulate AirBnbs

Xavier A. Ramírez, president of the Puerto Rico Small Inn Owners and Tourism Association

By The Star Staff

The Puerto Rico Small Inn Owners and Tourism Association asked this week that House Bill (HB) 1557, which seeks to register and regulate short-term rentals (ACPs), better known as “Airbnbs,” be responsibly reworked in the next legislative session in 2025.

The associated owners of the island’s “paradores,” or small-scale country inns, said lawmakers should use the best practices already implemented and tested in other jurisdictions in the United States, Canada and Europe, and that have been accepted by digital platforms in hundreds of tourist destinations worldwide.

“We believe that HB 1557, as submitted by representatives [José] Rivera Madera and [Joel] Sánchez Ayala, was a step in the right direction, but it was severely damaged in the legislative process, with absurd amendments to benefit ACP digital platforms and professional investors,” stressed Xavier A. Ramírez, president of the association that groups small inn owners. “They intended to legitimize the disorderly behavior of the commercial operators of these rentals.”

Ramírez, the co-owner of the Parador Combate Beach Resort, said two amendments added to HB 1557 in the island Senate are insignificant. The bill is weak and sick, he said, since it does not identify short-term rentals as a commercial activity. It also fails to address gentrification, as well as the main difficulties that affect condominiums and residential communities; does not fix permitting and tax evasion by professional hosts; does not consider the proliferation of illegal hotels; and seeks to limit the ministerial and fiduciary functions of municipalities and regulatory agencies on the island, he said.

“These gaps are enormous and would create a new category of business, and would legitimize the anarchy prevailing in this commercial segment,” Ramírez added.

Christian Rivera, co-owner of the Parador Guánica 1929, said he recognized the value of the ACP and its contribution to dispersing tourism throughout the island.

“However, like all businesses in the archipelago, ACPs must be registered, and contribute equitably to maintaining the infrastructure and public and common services they use for their companies,” said the vice president of the paradores association. “All the data indicates that they are a commercial activity, and must comply with all current regulations, and applicable to all temporary accommodations.”

Ángel “Cucho” Rodríguez, co-owner of the Parador Boquemar, said Puerto Rico needs to update its regulatory framework. His family has operated the 75-room inn in the Boquerón barrio of Cabo Rojo for 51 years, and they are required to have a municipal license for tax purposes and over 20 other licenses, endorsements, permits and insurance, while there are more than 900 ACPs in Cabo Rojo operating without registration, causing hundreds of problems in residential communities, and there are no consequences.

Ramírez, meanwhile, said the mandatory registration of all ACPs is key to the regulation’s success. He pointed out that HB 1557 erroneously focuses on ACPs marketed through digital platforms such as Airbnb and Vrbo, ignoring the changes occurring in the ACP segment toward direct income. Those changes facilitate the widespread evasion of the room tax, which exceeded $20 million in 2023, he said.

“It is with great disappointment that we see our legislators disregard the verifiable information we have provided, once again neglecting their constituents,” Ramírez said. “There is no longer any excuse for not creating appropriate and balanced regulations to serve the 88 percent of ACPs managed by commercial hosts. We propose that HB 1557 be withdrawn or rejected in the Senate, and reworked in 2025, starting from the preamble, using and adapting legislation approved in other North American jurisdictions, which are much more advanced and robust than what is currently proposed in HB 1557.”

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