This post suggests a couple of different automated solutions to notify abutters about a short-term rental registration without needing to go to the post office or door to door.
We own a 2-family home in Boston and rent out an adjoining unit on Airbnb. The City of Boston passed an ordinance in 2018 that requires short term rentals to register with the city. As part of complying with this ordinance, rental owners have to notify abutters within a 300 feet radius that that home has been registered as a short-term rental.
Although the city of Boston has a neat tool that outputs a list of all abutters within a set radius as a CSV (comma separated) file, neither the city nor Airbnb offer an automated solution to notify the abutters.
In searching for a solution, I came across two options that you can use depending on your level of comfort and familiarity with some basic programming skills.
Option 1: Use MailForm.io
Mailform is really easy to use. It allows you to import an address book of contacts and a PDF and initiate the mailing process via a dashboard.
Pros: Simple dashboard to manage the mailing process. no programming knowledge needed.
Cons: More expensive than option 2. In my case, per mail cost came to $2.35 per recipient. It gets cheaper with higher volume although I suspect most people needing to notify abutters will slot in around this rate. I would have chosen this option if I hadn’t come across option 2 as it still saves me the hassle of going door to door or sending letters by hand.
Option 2: Use lob.com’s API to send the mail
Lob offers an API (application programming interface) for sending snail mail. Pricing is super competitive with buying stamps and sending it yourself. A single black & white letter via standard class USPS nets to $0.67 per letter, which isn’t that much more than buying a postage stamp and doing all the legwork on your own or factoring in the time (and awkwardness/creepiness?) going door to door.
Pros: Very cost effective. Simple API with great sample code that you can customize for your needs.
Cons: Requires basic programming knowledge and dealing with API services.
If you decide to use Lob.com’s API …
Here’s how I used Lob.com’s API. I registered for an account on lob.com and added my credit card for processing the API requests. Their onboarding is all very self-explanatory. So you should be able to fly through it in no time.
To send letters, I customized their sample ruby code as follows. My modifications include sending letters using standard USPS mail which is cheaper than first class mailing, the default that Lob uses, and additional changes to correctly parse the CSV addresses file. You’ll need the lob gem, which is simple to install: just run ‘gem install lob’ from your terminal window.
Be sure to modify the API key and your address details in the script before invoking it. I recommend testing the script with your Lob test API key first to make sure that the address information from your CSV file is correct and that the letter is rendering properly. Also note that I had to set the US mail strictness level to relaxed in Lob’s account settings because a couple of mailing addresses weren’t passing the normal strictness level.
The above script requires two other files to run. First up is the HTML template that contains the letter to be sent. Mine is included below as an example. Change the address field for your short-term rental and your name at the bottom as needed.
The second is the CSV file outputted by the Boston abutter tool. Save the CSV as “mailingList.csv” in the same folder as your script and HTML template.
To invoke the script, simply run “ruby mailer.rb” from your terminal window. I strongly recommend invoking the script with the test API key first to make sure everything looks good. For instance, the script outputs the PDFs generated by your request to the terminal window. Open some of them to make sure that the letter looks ok to you. Once you are happy with the output, change the API key to the live version and run the script again.
You can monitor the status of the mailing you are sending on lob.com’s dashboard.
That’s it! Pretty cool, eh? Who thought one can send 200+ letters within a few seconds saving hours and hours of mundane work.