Woodstock closes in on regulation of short-term rentals

In its ongoing effort to address problems that may arise from the increasing number of short-term rentals, the Woodstock Town Board forwarded to town planners a series of regulations governing their safety and setting limits. The proposed short-term rental law requires amendments to the zoning law, so it is subject to Planning Board review.

Anyone renting out rooms in their home is supposed to register and obtain a town permit, already in current regulations, though few operators are in compliance.

Before voting to send the changes to the Planning Board, the Town Board discussed them and their impact and heard input from some who currently rent out units on their property.

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The new law is intended to strike a balance between those trying to earn a little extra income and the rising need for affordable year-round housing, Supervisor Bill McKenna explained. The proposed law prohibits short-term rentals in multi-family dwellings of three or more units so that those can be preserved for year-round residents.

The proposed regulations say that all short-term rentals must be registered with the town and county and be subject to yearly fire and safety inspections. All rental listings must include the owner’s town-issued registration number for tracking by the Building Department.

Renters must be given copies of local laws, especially the newly enacted noise ordinance.

After everyone is given the chance to register, the town will set a cap on the number of short-term units and review it regularly.

The town already has a permitting process for bed-and-breakfasts and while similar, owner-occupied short-term rentals are not part of current definitions. A bed-and-breakfast is usually a full-time business as opposed to an owner-occupied short-term rental, which would not serve food and may be simply a means to make extra income.

Non-owner-occupied units allowed with limits

The town will allow non-owner-occupied short-term rentals initially, but will limit them to one unit per owner and 180 days per year. That limit isn’t as strict as the Ulster County Planning Board suggestion that all municipalities ban non-owner-occupied units altogether.

Short-term rentals without the owner present are considered hotels and are already illegal under current zoning in most parts of town except for a few commercial districts. The 180-day limit, recommended by the county, is intended to curb the practice of companies buying homes for commercial enterprises.

“People are buying up houses for the sole purpose of running Airbnbs,” McKenna said, noting such a practice makes neighborhoods disappear because the owners are not present and not invested in the community.

“I’m personally against non-owner-occupied,” said Councilman Richard Heppner, chair of the Short-Term Rental Committee. “But we need compromise. We need to move this along. We need to get this started.”

Joan Lonergan of Coldwell Banker Realty questioned how, with all the new units, short-term and otherwise, all this will be enforced. “You’ve got people turning a garage, a little shed into a rental. You’ve got glamping…It’s really out of control,” she said.

McKenna said that’s why the town is interviewing for an additional code enforcement officer. The new person will be inspecting and managing compliance for short-term rentals. It’s expected that fees for registrations and inspections will cover the new position’s salary. Those fees have not been finalized.

Pick up your trash

The proposed law requires a garbage removal plan that prohibits receptacles from being left out more than 24 hours before and after pickup. Weekend renters leave on Sunday and in some parts of town, the pickup day may be several days later. Bears and other animals tend to get into the trash and scatter it along the street.

The board has discussed making this a townwide law affecting all properties, not just short-term rentals.

Public hearing likely in January or February

The Town Board will consider the Planning Board’s recommendations, which typically take 30 days for proposed zoning changes, and hold a public hearing either January 15 or in February before adopting the law.

Computer glitch

A technical mishap caused the loss of the email list for Town Board agendas. Anyone who would like to receive agendas is asked to contact the supervisor’s secretary, Kerry Muldoon, kerrymuldoon@woodstockny.org or call the supervisor’s office, (845) 679-2113, ext. 17.

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