Only three members showed up for the November 13 meeting of the Town of Shandaken committee considering regulations for short-term rentals (STRs), and no business could be conducted without a quorum. However, the committee members held a lively discussion with the dozen or so STR owners who attended, turning a situation of initial mutual wariness into an apparent willingness to collaborate on a permitting process for people renting their homes through online services such as Airbnb and HomeAway.
Homeowners formed a Facebook group last week and held a meeting on November 12, putting their heads together over concern the committee would make business difficult for them. They told the committee that STRs provide needed income for owners in a difficult economic climate, while benefitting local businesses by drawing overnight visitors to the area. Committee member and town supervisor Rob Stanley said regulation is needed due to complaints from residents whose STR neighbors make noise, trespass, and leave trash out for bears to strew.
Owners at the meeting said they have had no such complaints, and Stanley agreed the problem mainly stems from STR owners who do not live in the town but operate from a distance without proper oversight. “There has to be some kind of regulation,” said Stanley. “People are walking into town board meetings saying we’re not doing anything. It’s not to put people out of business. We just have to get a handle on it, because it’s going to grow.”
Ulster County has identified 128 homes in Shandaken that are being used for short-term rental, out of a total of about 2000 parcels. Hotels in the county pay the two percent tax, and hotel owners have objected to the freedom of STRs from requirements that are imposed on registered lodging businesses. Stanley, who owns an inn in the Town of Shandaken, said he has to submit to safety and fire inspections, carry extensive insurance, and pay registration fees. The town is aiming to set up a permitting process that will apply similar regulations to STRs.
Stanley described an incident in which a home with a defect in the chimney was occupied by renters. They loaded up the woodstove and then responded to billowing smoke by running outside and flagging down a passing motorist, who alerted the fire department. The fire was promptly put out, but if the renters had been given information on how to contact emergency personnel directly, the situation would have been resolved more quickly. Furthermore, homeowners insurance would not have covered any damage that might have occurred because it happened during a rental. STR owner James Kopp observed that Airbnb and HomeAway automatically provide their hosts with liability insurance. Alma Rodriguez said she provides her guests with information cards describing what to do in emergencies.
“We want to confirm people are doing those things,” said Stanley. “We need boots on the ground.”
“There are a few bad apples,” said Kerry Henderson, “it gets in the press, and the public perception is it’s all out of hand, when that’s a very small percentage.”
Stanley agreed but said a permitting process would do no harm to conscientious STR operators while it would address the problems created by the few who are irresponsible. Many in the audience said they would be happy to have regulations, if they are fair, since the long-term effect would be a more positive image of STRs.
“I work hard,” Rodriguez said. “People have the idea it’s easy money, but it’s a lot of work, with a lot of expenses.”
Mark Loete, the town zoning board’s representative on the STR committee, said there are larger issues, such as the effect on community character. The homes along his stretch of road in Chichester are either owned by weekenders or rented as STRs. During the week, he has no neighbors, and most of the occupants on weekends are strangers.
Amy Rosen countered with the observation that in recent years, second homeowners and STR operators have bought dilapidated houses that were unoccupied for years and made them livable.
“In this history of this area, we had a bungalow community,” added Rodriguez. “There were a lot of summer rentals that were not winterized. Now there’s a more vibrant community that can sustain people year-round.”
Another issue is the reported lack of availability of long-term rentals in town, which has been blamed on homes being bought up by people who do not live locally and use the houses solely as STRs. Kopp said he had researched ads for long-term rentals and found as many or more in the current year than in 2009, the year he moved to Shandaken.
“The county has data that shows having the ability to buy homes to rent as STRs raises prices,” said Stanley. The county has advised towns to ban non-resident owners from operating short-term rentals.
“We just want to set up a simple permit process that addresses all these issues,” said planning board chair Don Brewer. “We’re going to send out a questionnaire to the whole town, asking what people think should be included on a permit. We’ll also have suggestions from our meetings. But we won’t have a whole lot of regulations compared to what we’ve been seeing in cities.” The committee is studying STR regulations from cities across the country as well as towns in the area.
Loete told the audience, “Your input can be valuable to us.”
A meeting of the town committee on STRs has been tentatively scheduled for the second week of December at the Shandaken town hall. Check the town events calendar at https://www.shandaken.us for the final date.
Full disclosure: The writer rents her full-time residence intermittently on Airbnb but is not a member of the STR Facebook group.