Shandaken tackles short-term rental rules

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.” 

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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.” 

Other issues

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.

There are 5 comments

  1. Dave Channon

    STR: The Pro STR: The Pro and the Con

    Shandaken’s shortage of affordable housing and shortage of living wage jobs are a problem. Answer: subsidized housing and a living minimum wage. No! Instead, let’s do the con game with Airbnb, the most successful new STR advance in Shandaken’s struggling tourism
    economy.
    The “Pro”? Short Term Rental provides desperately needed visitor lodging, desperately needed income to local homeowners, and employment for many property managers. It has led to the renovation of run down vacant buildings. As a result, there are more LONG TERM rentals here than ever, despite fake rumors to the contrary. It brings much needed tourist income to dining, shopping and entertainment businesses. It is part of a wider “Gig Economy” including STR pop-up commercial businesses. That’s the “Pro”.
    The “Con”? The big hotel lobby cons us into blaming Airbnb for everything. They hate competition! And local residents who once were surrounded by empty weekender homes now know what it feels like to really have neighbors. Full time neighbors can make noise, mess, and be disagreeable. When it crosses the line, police intervene. That’s life. Happens every day. Nothing new here. Blaming STR for your woes is the “Con Game”.
    What to do? Jack-up taxes and over-regulate a vibrant new economy with so many benefits for our community? No. Clamp down on rotten apples instead. Airbnb has an easy way for neighbors to shut down truly bad hosts. Go to: www.airbnb.com/neighbors Report violators: 3 strikes and they’re out. Try that with full time neighbors.
    Shandaken has a long history of boarding houses, BNBs, little inns, and camping. We live in a very desirable place and we have shared our homes with tourists for 200 years. But an Airbnb is not a commercial multi-unit hotel business like the Emerson. It is a residential rental, and should be treated like a residential rental. Tenting and camping are not hotels either. Duh!
    The Shandaken STR committee has no Airbnb hosts on it. Why? Weekenders need representation on this committee too. They pay big taxes but can’t vote in local elections. That’s taxation without representation! Supervisor Stanley must invite some Airbnb hosts and STR Weekenders to serve on this committee. A new Shandaken survey is being crafted to begin the regulation process. It must be unbiased, not designed to get negative results for the benefit of the wealthy hotel lobby. We need good, sensible regulations that encourage economic growth.
    Strangling STR will not solve any housing crisis. Government subsidized housing and a mandatory living wage are the only answer to that tough nationwide problem. If this mild uptick of anecdotal complaints is the worst impact of STR, imagine the crisis if the proposed Belleayre Resort was built. Thousands of workers, displacing real tourists, eating up all available housing, driving rental cost sky-high. But the foolish developers refused to provide any worker housing in their plan. Here comes Airbnb that provides as many tourist rooms as a mega resort, using existing infrastructure, with minimal disruption. A Pro! Perhaps some of those struggling to rent or buy homes could afford it if they also took in Airbnb guests. Win-win instead of lose-lose.

    Dave Channon
    Shandaken, NY

  2. Kerry Henderson

    Way to go, Dave Channon ! Thank you for your well reasoned comments . Airbnb has been an absolute godsend for our struggling mountain community of homeowners and local businesses and offers amazing environmentally sound choices for visitors to our beautiful area.

  3. Ulsterite

    Dave Channon, its quite simple to circumvent Airbnb “policing.” The only thing they care about is money. If people bought a property without neighbors close by, who are you to say “oh well” when strs blow things up?

  4. Steven L Fornal

    Yet, nowhere does Mr. Channon mention the town’s potential liability for not regulating STRs. That’s a point of fact. Should the town absolve itself of regulatory oversight to assure safety of the premises rented, the town could be liable for any injury and/or death that occurs. Plus, since the town has no current ordinance re STRs, they’re all illegal. Creating a provision for them will be to allow them. No one is “taking” anything from those wishing to rent out their homes. However, by having a code that covers problem areas whenever renters create havoc, the town will be better off as will neighbors bothered by nuisance renters. A one time fee and keeping tabs on the 2 percent bed tax fee that all other short term rental operations must contribute doesn’t seem too bothersome.

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