The town of Woodstock is using its existing zoning law to regulate short-term property rentals popularized by such websites as Airbnb and will shut down those who do not go through the proper permitting process or meet the definition of a bed-and-breakfast.
Supervisor Bill McKenna said the town received a legal opinion last year that provisions in the zoning law governing such places are on strong footing and effective January, the Building Department began enforcing violations.
Anyone can operate a bed-and-breakfast or offer a short-term rental “provided they are inspected by the fire inspector,” McKenna said. But if the owner or operator is not present, it’s considered a hotel, which is illegal nearly everywhere except the central hamlet district. A property owner can rent a house or room without being on the premises as long as it is not short-term, which is defined as a week or less, McKenna said.
Getting a permit (which costs $50) and allowing an inspection has its benefits, said McKenna, because it can lower the owner’s insurance premiums.
The issue came to a boiling point last summer, when residents complained neighbors were renting their homes to people who come and throw loud parties and have no regard for the permanent residents next-door.
The Town Board has tried to find a balance between people’s right to make a buck and the right of full-time residents to enjoy peace and quiet. Now, it has turned to enforcement to address quality-of-life issues.
Building Inspector and Code Enforcement Officer Ellen Casciaro will act on complaints and first determine if the rental is lawful and meets health-and-safety requirements, McKenna said. Part of the enforcement will be to make sure the advertisement matches the actual rental so that, for example, something listed as a one-month rental isn’t a weekend party house in reality.
For the most part, noise is only an issue with absentee landlords who are not present to tell their short-term tenants to behave and be mindful of their neighbors.
McKenna believes there are upwards of 800 listed short-term rentals during the summer and out of those, around 10-15 cause regular problems.
Officials held off taking any action out of hopes the Comprehensive Plan update would be further along. The Comprehensive Plan serves as a survey of town services and infrastructure needs and is a guide for future zoning updates.
Town joins URGENT for another year
Despite some misgivings, the Town Board at its February 14 meeting unanimously approved a new one-year agreement with the Ulster Regional Gang Enforcement Narcotics Team, URGENT, saying it is worth the good it does in combating the area’s drug problems.
Resident Felicia Kacsik urged the town not to sign a new agreement out of concern for a procedure called civil asset forfeiture in which cash, cars and other items can be seized just on suspicion of guilt.
McKenna said the police department also has that ability, but it has never been used.
Some towns, including Woodstock, have been nervous about assigning officers to the task force because of exposure to liability should something go wrong during a raid or other enforcement action by URGENT. The task force, founded in 2007, relies on law enforcement officers on loan from other municipalities.
The Town of Ulster backed out of URGENT a few years ago after it was sued over allegations of excessive force by a town police officer on assignment with the task force. The county did not provide legal assistance and the town settled for $50,000.
But McKenna said officers are exposed to the same liability when they provide mutual aid to another town.
Participation in URGENT is worth it “if they can stop one (drug) sale, one person from dying,” said Town Clerk Jackie Earley, who has a relative dealing with addiction.
“There is a big drug problem in this area,” said Councilwoman Cathy Magarelli. Despite its problems URGENT is “the best organization we have” to deal with it.
Councilman Richard Heppner said he supports membership in URGENT, but noted it is prudent to investigate the cost incurred by the town over the year.
McKenna said the town likely won’t have to pick up the overtime tab because the officer assigned to URGENT is part-time.
Thanks to first responders, Central Hudson
McKenna extended thanks to the Fire, Police and Highway departments, the Rescue Squad and Central Hudson for their response to the aftermath of high winds on February 13 that toppled many trees and took down numerous utility lines and plunged much of the town into darkness. One crew of Central Hudson linemen and contractors worked from Tuesday morning well into the night to replace a pole and reattach lines near 127 Tinker Street a day after a tree fell across the road.
McKenna reminded the public to check on elderly neighbors during extended power outages. People can call emergency dispatch at (845) 679-2422 and ask to have a loved one or neighbor added to a list of people who will be called during these times. Officers will be dispatched to check on those who cannot be reached by telephone.
The service provided needed medical assistance for at least two residents when officers, checking up on residents, deemed it necessary to call EMTs.