Faithful turn to open houses for Pope visit

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Michael Gorman can see the hoards of the faithful heading his way, and he’s preparing his spare bedrooms.

Gorman, a frequent user of AirBnb, a web service that allows homeowners and renters to turn empty rooms into short-term rentals, is readying for the many Catholics, Christians and interested parties descending upon Philadelphia for the Pope’s visit at the World Meeting of Families in September.

And he’s not the only one. On the website, hundreds of offers are popping up for rental opportunities the week of September 22.

However, according to Chief Deputy City Solicitor Andrew Ross, AirBnB is in violation of the city’s zoning code.

Short term rentals, whether they be hotels or bed and breakfasts, are only permitted in certain areas designated for hotels per the city’s restrictions. While most business districts are included, only a few residential blocks are included.

To have a guest stay the night, you are legally required to get a license. But the law is only enforced when a complaint is filed.

“This has become an issue in other cities, New York especially, because people are doing it all the time, it’s like their business,” Ross said. “So neighbors of the house or the apartment that’s being rented don’t like seeing a lot of transient people coming in and out and that’s where you get government coming in because it’s causing issues with the neighbors.”

Gorman doesn’t seem to have that problem. He and his wife have hosted more than 40 travelers.

“We enjoy doing it,” Gorman said. “We meet a lot of interesting people. They actually stay at a room in our home so we sit down and have dinner with them and chat with them.”

But this event should bring in a whole new generation.

“We’ve got a lot of time between now and when the big event happens in September to see if AirBnB starts selling out of all the reasonably-priced accommodations,” said Gorman, who rents a townhouse in Graduate Hospital with his wife,“and people start price gouging.”

Reservations prices peaked in the days following the announcement that Pope Francis would make his first visit to the United States. The only vacancies left in Center City are letting for about $900 a night, nearly four times the normal cost.

Gorman, 31, a full-time Finance student at Rutgers University, said he typically sets his rates at about $80 a night and he rents two spare bedrooms that can fit four.

“So I will probably try and rent them both at $250 to $300 a night at most,” he said. “Not the same as the hotels are doing, but I would probably increase the price. I would still want the flexibility.”

If he sets the price too high, then he has to settle for whoever is willing to pay the higher price.

“One of the nice things about AirBnB is you being able to pick the people who stay with you,” he said. “You have to not push the price through the roof because that means you have far less choice about who’s staying at your house.”

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