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Obamania grips Washington

WASHINGTON, November 23 – Two months before Barack Obama is due to be sworn in as 44th president of the United States, accommodation in Washington can only be had for a hefty price.

With hotel rooms all but impossible to find in the days surrounding Obama\’s January 20 inauguration ceremony, local residents are looking to cash in by renting out their homes.

Residents of Washington and surrounding towns have posted ads on the Internet offering rooms in their homes for 500 dollars a night.

Some have offered to vacate the family home and rent it out to visitors.

Other have even offered parking for a camping vehicle in their driveway for 80 dollars a night, and tent space in their garden with access to toilet and shower facilities for 100 dollars a night.

"People are really energised by this election and a couple of million people could show up here for the inauguration," said Bob Baer, who will stay with relatives during inauguration week if he is able to rent out his home in Virginia for 15,000 dollars.

"If 10 people stayed in a hotel, they would pay a lot more than 15,000 dollars for the week," he said, adding that his home could accommodate "10 adults who are used to sleeping in their own bed or, if a group of youth hostel kids wanted to come, 20-30 people."

A four-bedroom house in Clifton, Virginia, complete with use of a car, a complimentary bottle of 250-dollar Bordeaux, and two fireplaces stocked with hardwoods, was on offer for 12,500 dollars from January 18-23.

And a house, which is bang next door to where vice president-elect Joe Biden will live with his family, was on offer for 12,500 dollars. A night.

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A "person from New York" has visited the house, which has more than 929 square metres of living space and can sleep eight to 10 people, the owner told AFP.

Mayor Adrian Fenty on Thursday issued an order temporarily relaxing regulations that require Washington residents to have a business license to rent out property, but only for the two weeks surrounding the inauguration.

"We issued this order in response to the unprecedented demand for accommodations," Washington attorney general Peter Nickles said.

Some people are so intent on being in or near Washington for Obama\’s swearing-in that they plan to camp out in January, when temperatures usually hover around freezing.

Louise Soroko, whose family runs the Maple Tree Campground in northern Maryland, about 1.5 hours from Washington, has had inquiries from as far afield as Britain for inaugural week, she told AFP.

And the Cherry Hill campsite in College Park, Maryland, which prides itself on being the closest camping ground to Washington, is chock-full, owner Mike Gurevich said.

"We\’ll have over 300 RVs and we\’ve rented out our yurts, cabins, everything," said Gurevich.

"We\’re going to open up just like it\’s summertime — all the bath houses will be open, our cafe will be open, and we have a community centre which we\’ll keep open all night in case it\’s really cold.

"And I have no doubt that it will be really cold," he said.

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Those who hoped to sleep in style had to plan early, according to manager Erich Hosbach of the swank Mandarin Oriental hotel in southwest Washington, which saw all of its 400 rooms booked even before the election.

This year, reservations were confirmed more quickly than usual, said Hosbach.

"This inauguration stands apart mainly in the amount of people they\’re expecting — estimates are between three and five million — and the level of excitement," said Hosbach, who has already seen in presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

The hotel came up with an ultra-luxury "five-day, four-night presidential privilege package," which listed at 200,900 dollars, but did book its "presidential suite" for 10,000 dollars a night, he said.

An online search for a hotel room in Washington came up over and over with the message "no available room."

Only a budget hotel in the Suitland neighbourhood, where online reviews complained of hallways that stank of urine and a receptionist who stood behind bullet-proof glass, had two single rooms still available in inaugural week.

They were going for 150 dollars a night, nearly double the normal rate.

All 14 double rooms in the hotel had been snapped up as soon as Obama was declared the winner of the election, and "by tomorrow, the singles might be gone, too," the manager of the hotel, who asked not to be named, told AFP.

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