Heard on the Hill

New rules for Airbnb could squeeze intern housing options

New D.C. law tightening home-sharing rules could increase sticker shock for students looking to intern on Capitol Hill

A sign advertises an apartment for rent in D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. A new D.C. law tightening rules on home sharing services could increase sticker shock for students looking to intern on Capitol Hill.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Home-sharing services like Airbnb are facing a crackdown by D.C. lawmakers who want to stop real estate investors from using buildings as de facto hotels. But what impact will a potential crunch on short-term housing have for interns looking for rentals in the District?

It can be daunting for interns seeking a place to stay in one of the nation’s most expensive cities. The initial excitement of landing that dream internship can quickly turn into panic, especially for students who need housing on short notice.

Airbnb has been one option in recent years.

The home-sharing platform has been effective for groups of interns needing a place for one to three months, said Frank D’Angelo, an executive with Nomadic Real Estate, a D.C. property management company.

But those rentals may be harder to find because of a new District law tightening home-sharing rules.

“Now with the D.C. laws changing and the new rules going into effect in October this year, this will probably be the last summer anyone can take advantage of that,” D’Angelo said.

Under the new law, property owners will no longer be able to rent out second homes on a short-term basis. And homeowners can offer spare rooms in their primary residence for no more than 90 days when the owner isn’t present. The changes could restrict the short-term housing supply, thus making rentals more expensive.

Because landlords typically prefer long-term renters, it can be difficult for interns with specific rooming dates to find affordable housing. And once cheaper options like the dorms at George Washington University or American University fill up, students might have to turn to sites such as Craigslist or Washington Intern Student Housing, known as WISH for short.

But some investors are looking to fill the sweet spot between home-sharing and apartment leasing. Companies such as Fundrise, Zeus and a few others have been buying investment properties to rent to groups, D’Angelo said.

“Some companies purchase homes, and they find [renters or customers] who are OK with more short-term community-style rentals,” he said. “So it’s not quite Airbnb or VRBO [a short-term home rental service]. There’s actually a long-term lease in place with the company who owns the property, and then they just kind of swap out the roommates.”

But a Zeus listing for a two-bedroom apartment near Meridian Hill Park sets the rate at $7,500 for the entirety of July. And an Airbnb one-bedroom unit available from June to August for four guests can run you more than $9,000.

That may be well and good if you can afford fully furnished rentals in pricey neighborhoods like Shaw, U Street or Logan Circle.

But since lots of students come from places with much lower costs of living, the sticker shock of D.C. real estate can be enough to discourage them from seeking internships in the first place.

That’s one reason some schools are building their own residences in D.C., according to Don DeMaria, director of the University of Georgia’s Washington Semester Program. The school’s Delta Hall residence, which opened on Capitol Hill in 2015, has helped students adjust, DeMaria said.

“We obviously wanted to control costs in the best manner for students coming from towns with relatively low costs of living,” he said. In Georgia, “students can pay $400 to 500 bucks a month and have their own bedroom and bathroom. Then they get to D.C., and that’s not the case at all.”

Of course, it remains to be seen whether D.C.’s home-sharing changes will affect housing prices for interns, but Airbnb sees it as an overall negative.

“We raised a lot of concerns in terms of impact on our host community,”  Airbnb spokeswoman Liz DeBold Fusco said. The company issued a scathing response following the unanimous D.C. Council vote last November, calling the proposal “reckless” and “fiscally irresponsible.”

But no matter the rules, the fundamental problem for anyone looking to live in D.C. is that the rents are high — and only getting higher.

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