As home-sharing services such as Airbnb and HomeAway continue to be popular in Ulster County, municipalities are acting to establish regulatory oversight, while the county moves toward collecting a bed tax from short-term home rentals. The Town of Shandaken is considering its options, such as trying out Woodstock’s new law that requires home-sharing hosts to register with the town.
Home-sharing websites make it easy for homeowners to rent out all or part of their properties to short-term guests, particularly convenient in a tourism-based region like the Catskills. While the ease and affordability of rental has drawn more visitors to the area, a boon for the economy, it has brought drawbacks such as complaints from neighbors and a reduction in available long-term rentals for local families, since some houses are being bought up solely to be used for home-sharing rental.
After months of discussion by the Woodstock town board, revised laws relating to hotels and b-and-b’s have been evaluated by the town’s attorney and turned over the building inspector. Council members Bill McKenna and Cathy Magarelli will be discussing “how to move forward with enforcement,” said McKenna. The main complaint coming from neighbors of home-sharing properties is excessive noise when the owners of the rental are not present.
McKenna stated that whether renting out a whole house, one or more rooms within a house, or an adjacent cottage, owners must register with the building department and have a yearly inspection by the town building inspector, according to town law. “It’s easy to do,” he said, “and with insurance, the inspection benefits the homeowner. Then they know it’s safe.”
The Shandaken Planning Board began its discussion in July, in response to complaints about noise and bear-strewn garbage at rentals where the owners live off-site and cannot be held accountable for inconvenience to neighbors. Planning Board chair Don Brewer said the board is studying measures taken by other towns to see what works and what doesn’t. Ideas under consideration include requiring homeowners to obtain a permit that would be renewed annually, with a contact phone number that would be supplied to the town and to neighbors, so violations can be reported and laws enforced. A local phone number would also be provided in case of emergencies, and every neighbor within 200 feet of the property would be notified of the rental. Hosts may be obligated to post the rules and regulations on-site. These provisions would apply only to rentals of 30 days or less, not to month-to-month rentals.
Brewer said the town wants to protect local residents and the neighborhood, without discouraging short-term rentals, which bring money into the region and help homeowners supplement their own income. However, he regretted the effect of pushing local families out of the region when they can’t find reasonably priced long-term rentals. (Full disclosure: This reporter, a Shandaken resident, intermittently rents out her house on Airbnb.)
County, city, state levels
Meanwhile, at the county level, comptroller Elliott Auerbach said his office has been working with a legislative committee on crafting language that will expand the current hotel-motel law, folding in the sharing economy and enabling the county to apply the two percent bed tax to home-sharing services. “To date, five other counties have moved forward with similar initiatives,” said Auerbach. “Once all of the legislative legal concerns can be addressed, I believe we will see Ulster chart the same course.”
In February, Auerbach said his office had been in discussion with Airbnb, HomeAway, and FlipKey, regarding ways to make the tax payment seamless and handled by the websites rather than by hosts or guests. More recent conversations with the Airbnb corporate office indicate that Ulster County homeowners hosted over 20,000 Airbnb visitors from September 2015 to September 2016. “There are over 900 currently registered Airbnb units,” Auerbach added. “For the 12-month period, over $11 million in revenue was generated. Based on our projections, the county would stand to gain an additional $200,000 in bed tax just from Airbnb.”
Controversy over short term-rental is heated in New York City. Airbnb is currently suing the state of New York for passing a law that levies fines on New York City home-sharing hosts for advertising rentals that violate recently installed regulations against renting out an entire apartment in a building with more than three family units. Airbnb contends that the law is confusing and therefore violates First Amendment rights of hosts who are legally renting out their apartments in smaller buildings or single rooms within their apartments. In a Daily News opinion piece, Chris Lehane of Airbnb suggested that laws be changed to allow home-sharing throughout the city but “limit people renting their home to a single home within the five boroughs. This would help ensure that home-sharing does not remove permanent housing from the rental market — and enable regulators to target enforcement at truly bad actors, while allowing everyday New Yorkers to occasionally rent their own home.” In fact, as of November, Airbnb plans to automatically prevent hosts from listing more than one home within New York City.
The Airbnb blog has posted statistics showing that home-sharing income is widely used to pay off student loans; that many homes are rented out by people over 60; and that the service is providing a 13 percent boost to the median household income in some of the city’s low-income communities. The blog states that Airbnb has offered to set up a system for collecting a bed tax in New York City, as it has done in other cities around the country.