How to Rent Out Your Place During the Pope’s Philadelphia Visit

Listing-service recommendations — and rate ranges — for all kinds of housing situations.
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Will you look to rent out a spare room or house for the Pope’s Visit | Photo: Rex Features, AP

Papal-seeking pilgrims are soon going to find themselves in a mad scramble for accommodations during the upcoming World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia (September 21st through 27th), especially around the days when the Pope is actually in town (the 25th through 27th). Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles Chaput got on the horn recently to let people know that Philly has “only” 11,000 hotel rooms and “barely 65,000 within a 60-mile radius.” The “no room at the inn” jokes write themselves, as hotels have either filled up or blacked out the dates for large group commitments. With crowds estimated over the 1 million mark for 2015’s other Holy Week, that just ain’t gonna cut it.

The whole situation presents some interesting opportunities for those in the region with an extra room — or even a whole house — to spare. But as evidenced by this thread on Reddit, a lot of people don’t even know where to start. How should you price and list it? Is it even legal?

Realtor Kelly Betley, of Spire Real Estate LLC, says she has already gotten calls from a few people looking to rent out their houses for $1,000 per night. As the event draws nearer, Betley thinks some homeowners with active listings on the market will choose to rent it out for the week, possibly even for a higher rate.

But before you jump into that big pile of money in your mind, make sure you’re protected. Attorney Jeffrey A. Beer, managing broker with Keller Williams Main Line Realty, tells us that even though the city may be turning the proverbial blind eye to typical licensing practices, you should still get your paperwork in order — just in case.

That starts with having a written agreement drawn up by a real estate attorney that would look like a short-term lease, not unlike one for a rental down the Shore or in the Poconos. It should explicitly state the length of stay (to ward off potential squatters), fees associated with the lease (security deposit, cancellation fee, etc.), and the conditions for staying in the home. “I would recommend [getting the proper licenses and written agreement] purely for safety reasons and to ensure success in the eviction process,” says Beer. “The written agreement is meant to protect the tenant and the landlord.” In other words, you’re acting like a business, however briefly, and the courts will treat you as such. And yes, you will still have to report your income to the tax authorities. Be sure your homeowners insurance or your current lease covers rentals or sublets as well.

That brings us to the Internet portion of our discussion. With sites like Craigslist, Airbnb, VRBO and a whole slew of other leasing services in the fold, it’s a veritable Wild West when it comes to nailing down a price. Not surprising, the most absurd rates are found on Craigslist, with some listings asking as much as $15,000 for the week.

On the opposite end of the financial spectrum, Chaput called for those within 120 miles of Center City with a furnished spot to become a host family through Homestay.com — the official accommodation site of the WMOF. While it’s up to the host family to decide if they’ll charge for their lodging, Chaput asked hosts to make the fees as “as reasonable as possible.”

So, whether you’re looking to cash in or just help a pilgrim out, here’s our guide to renting out your place during the World Meeting of Families.

If You Live in the Art Museum/Parkway Area

Screenshot 2015-02-28 at 2.13.05 AMIn this neighborhood, it all comes down to one question: Do you normally stay in your home for Made in America or get the hell out of Dodge? If you’re used to handling that influx, stay put and enjoy the scene. But if you want to go on vacation (and maybe have someone pay for it), know that we don’t blame you. One intriguing idea: Use the temporarily increased value of your place to wangle a better getaway than you might normally get on a home-swapping site like Home Exchange ($150 for a one-year membership; here’s how it works).

Going Rate: Between a few hundred and a grand per night on Airbnb.

Holy Moly Rate: $5,000 per night on VBRO for a place with a notable view: “Also, across the street is The Chapel and Convent of Divine Love, which celebrates its 100th year during the Pope’s visit. A highly expected visitation spot for The Pope in which you can view from each of our balconies.”

If You Live in Old City/Society Hill

This is another tough call. You’re far enough away that the crowds probably won’t be too much of a hassle, but in a posh and historic sweet spot that could net you some major bank. While we might suggest you stick around, we wouldn’t be surprised to see a bunch of listings on VRBO (various membership plans/rates; how it works) in the coming months for the area. Love Home Swap, a home swapping/rental site with membership tiers ranging from $20 to $34 per month, could also have some fabulous options (how it works).

Going Rate: Apartments ranging from $150 to $750 per night on Airbnb.

Holy Moly Rate: $14,000 for a whole place on Craigslist.

If You Live in Rittenhouse

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 4.05.11 PMThis one is a little tricky. We spoke with Allan Domb, who reminded us that it would be nearly impossible for residents in a luxury high-rise to rent out their pad, as it would break the rules of the condo association (mainly, a one-year lease minimum) — which we’re pretty sure is the reason why Sigourney Weaver turned into Zuul in Ghostbusters. So stay put. Got a townhouse? Call a Realtor, like Kelly Betley of Spire Real Estate (610-212-8975), who can market it to those distinguished visitors looking to live the high life.

Going Rate: A few hundred bucks per night on Airbnb.

Holy Moly Rate: $6,000 for a one-bedroom on Craigslist.

If You Live in Fishtown/Northern Liberties/River Wards

There’s an interesting dichotomy at work in this area of the city. Old-school Catholic residents near the El in Fishtown and Kensington that have the space should look at taking Chaput’s advice and becoming a host family (how it works). New-jack Fishtowners who just got their first pad or live in an artist collective should look to list through Couchsurfing (how it works). Don’t act like you’re offended — we all know it’s already on there.

Going Rate: Possibly free through WMOF’s Host a Family.

Holy Moly Rate: Possibly free through Couchsurfing.

If You Live in South Philly

73e18b0e-a564-4e74-892b-66519cfea53e.1.10Like Fishtown, deep-rooted Roman (and Irish) Catholics all over South Philly might look to become a host family. Given the proximity to the subway and some of the top restaurants in the country, we can’t blame you if you’re looking to maybe pay your mortgage or rent for the month. If the weather remains beach-worthy, give Airbnb (free to list; how it works) a try and pray the early fall weather holds out so you can stay in North Wildwood for the week or weekend.

Going Rate: $100 to $200 per night for a room on Airbnb and Wimdu; upwards of $1,000 per night for a house on Airbnb.

Holy Moly Rate: $1,600 per night on VBRO; $2,000 per night for the weekend on Airbnb.

If You Live in Northeast Philly

There’s a reason why part of Northeast Philly is called the Far Northeast. It’s, you know, far. While I-95 is a nightmare, the proximity to the El and Regional Rail (in most cases) should be a key mention in your listings (if true). As a faithful reader reminded us on Facebook: “And also…HELLO…you want your Catholics, you’ve got ’em! Overflowing throughout this very LARGE and oft-forgotten section of Philly.” There aren’t a whole bunch of options right now, but we wouldn’t be surprised if a ton of host families come from this area simply because that’s how the Northeast rolls.

Going Rate: $50-$100 per night on Airbnb, or small charge through WMOF’s Host Family

Holy Moly Rate: $330 per night for a home in Mayfair on Airbnb

If You Live on the Main Line/in the Western ’Burbs

Screenshot 2015-02-27 at 11.26.53 PM - EditedYou hate traveling on the Schuylkill and 95 before and after your normal 9-to-5 workday. Now imagine what it’s going to be like when Philly’s population temporarily swells by over a million people for an entire week. Hunker down in your Main Line estate or look for an eager visitor from Europe with upscale tastes to take your place for the week. Here’s a gorgeous example on HomeAway.com (how it works).

Going Rate: The home above listed for $900 per night seems about right.

Holy Moly RateAlmost $13,000 for this bonkers resort-like listing via HomeAway’s Luxury Rentals.

If You Live in South Jersey

Houses in Haddonfield near the PATCO Speedline could fetch (or at least ask for) $1,000 per night. So, what are you waiting for? List! List! List! We recommend you get in contact with a reputable Realtor, such as BHHS Fox & Roach in Haddonfield.

Going Rate: Possibly upwards of $1,000 per night, according to Kelly Betley.

Holy Moly Rate: $8,000 to stay in Palmyra for the week, via Craigslist.

If You Live in the Hinterlands

Do you call the far reaches of that 120-mile radius mentioned by Archibishop Chaput home? Craigslist was built for times like these. Pop your pad on the Philadelphia site, tag it with with tons of pope- and Philly-related items, list it for an outlandish rate and reel in requests from people overseas who have no idea how far away your house is from Center City. You might go to Hell, but you might also get to go on a sweet vacation because of it!

Going Rate: A couple of hundred bucks per night in Lake Harmony on Luxury Rentals.

Holy Moly Rate: $10,000 for an 11-day window in Coatesville on Cragislist.