Investigation: Questions about Philadelphia's enforcement of short-term rentals

ByChad Pradelli and Cheryl Mettendorf WPVI logo
Thursday, March 16, 2023
Questions about Philadelphia's enforcement of short-term rentals
The city created a new law to help with oversight of short-term rentals, but the Action News investigative team found the city is still trying to figure out how to enforce the law.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- There's been a surge in the development and conversion of short-term rentals in the City of Philadelphia. They often are marketed on sites like Airbnb, Vrbo and

Some homeowners told Action News it comes with a cost to quality of life after some units get rented as party spots.

The city created a new law to help with oversight and the Action News investigative team found the city is still trying to figure out how to enforce the law.

At 2 a.m. on February 3, teenagers can be seen streaming out of 305 N. 3rd Street in Old City.

Video was taken by a neighbor after being startled awake when a fire alarm was pulled.

Joe Baker among them.

"They're shouting or screaming. I've seen them jump on cars. It is frightening," he said.

Two weeks earlier neighbors said another party at the property ended in gunfire, and there have apparently been other incidents.

"Everyone's fed up. Everyone is on edge," said Robert Gurmankin with Franklin Bridge North Neighbors Association.

A residence at 305 N. 3rd is among a growing number of buildings with short-term rental units, which neighbors say, at times, is used to host large parties.

It is owned by New Yorker Avi Lasri and his company Havana Lofts LLC in Philadelphia. He also owns several units inside that he rents for short-term stays.

"I spoke to his attorney about a week ago. They said they would have a guard living here to make sure that there's no problems," said Gurmankin.

Lasri's attorney told Action News that the guard was only working until midnight. He said his client has ordered sound monitoring equipment for the units to alert Lasri to any parties and unruly behavior.

Concerned neighbors recently met with Councilman Mark Squilla in a virtual meeting looking for help.

A new 100-plus unit short-term rental development is also planned around the corner.

"So our goal is to make sure, first of all, that we are able to address the concerns from nearby neighbors in residential areas," said Councilman Squilla. "And then secondly is then to be able to hold people accountable for bad activity that's going on."

Since 2015, owners of short-term rentals have been required to get rental licenses, and in 2021 the city passed a new law to provide oversight and require booking agents like AirBnB, Vrbo and others to also be licensed and post their customer's rental licenses on their platforms.

An Action News investigation found there have been more than 180 complaints to the city's 311 line for unlicensed short-term rentals since the beginning of 2022.

Councilman Squilla admits there's been virtually no enforcement until this year.

"So now we're running licenses, we're going to go through to see if this legislation is strong enough," he said.

Enforcement falls under the city's Licenses and Inspections Department. But a spokesperson for L&I couldn't provide details on how it will work and declined our request to go on camera.

Councilman Squilla admits 305 North 3rd is a sort of test case. He said if a property has three serious complaints within a 60-day period or six within a year, the property will undergo a review where their Limited Lodging License could be pulled.

Impacted residents are leery.

"Are you confident L&I will be able to get the job done to enforce these things and get rid of these nuisance properties?" asked Chad Pradelli.

"Frankly, no," replied Squilla. "Would say it's still yet to be seen because it is so new."

The Havana Lofts Condo Association has sent Lasri a cease and desist letter, stating short-term rentals are not allowed in the building.

Lasri's attorney feels he's being discriminated against and is working to deal with the issue.

L&I says it's investigating the complaints.