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Unlicensed Airbnb properties popping up throughout RI

For Cindy Fera of “Seaside Escape," running an Airbnb hasn't been all cupcakes and cash. (MGN)

It could be the water views, or maybe the complimentary cupcakes.

Either way, guests can't get enough of Cindy Fera's “Seaside Escape.”

“I started in the summer and that first summer I was booked most weekends and I really enjoyed it,” said Fera. “I've loved doing it and it helps me keep my house.”

But running an Airbnb hasn't been all cupcakes and cash.

Two years ago, the city of Warwick sent Fera a violation notice. She was told she needed to apply for a bed and breakfast permit to continue operating.

“I had four different inspections,” said Fera, recounting the months-long process. “I had to widen my driveway, which I understand and I like it being wide and it's better in the winter, I had to redo all the alarms.”

In spite of all the hoops she had to jump through, Fera said spending more than $2,000 to make sure her house was up to code was worth it, as she wants to run a legitimate business.

But two years later, she doesn’t understand why more than 20 other Warwick Airbnb hosts weren't being asked to do the same.

So, NBC 10 News took that issue to the mayor's office.

“There is no Airbnb license here in this city,” Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian said.

It seems the city made Fera jump through hoops for nothing. Avedisian said the bed and breakfast permit Fera was instructed to get likely doesn't apply to short-term online rentals.

NBC 10 Consumer Advocate Emily Volz asked the mayor why the discrepancy wasn’t addressed in 2015, since the city knew Fera was listing her home on Airbnb.

“Because it's a very long process to get a zoning change done,” said Avedisian.

While there are Airbnb properties in nearly every Rhode Island city and town, only a handful of municipalities have policies that regulate the properties.

Crafting regulatory legislation is tricky. Airbnbs come in many forms, including everything from an eight-bedroom estate to a spare bedroom. And hosts don't list their addresses, so it's tough to track them down.

But without regulation, who’s looking out for the safety of guests? Or property owners?

“The biggest problem with Airbnb rentals is there's no regulation,” said Narragansett Building Inspector Anthony Santilli.

Narragansett is one of the only towns in Rhode Island that has an Airbnb registration policy in place, but Santilli said, even that's not enough.

“I think the state of Rhode Island needs to get together, the legislators need to pass laws regarding Airbnbs, so the municipalities can regulate them,” said Santilli.

Until that happens, there aren't many protections for thousands of Airbnb guests staying in Rhode Island -- or hundreds of hosts who are trying to make a living.

“It's one thing to hang a sign outside the door saying open for business, but it's another thing to take the money and the time to do it legally,” said Fera. “I don't want to do less, I want it to be a really good business, I want people to love to come to Warwick.”

While there are few statewide regulations, Rhode Island lawmakers did pass legislation to tax Airbnbs in 2015.

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