At the January 14 meeting of the Shandaken Short-Term Rental (STR) Committee, Dennis Doyle, chair of the Ulster County Planning Board, made a presentation on designing regulations to address Airbnbs and other STRs. The committee then looked at town supervisor Rob Stanley’s suggestions for a questionnaire to send to town residents, a step in the process of devising regs.
Among the audience were many members of the Phoenicia Home Sharing Association, who offered a lively commentary on Doyle’s presentation and then provided information to the committee regarding liability insurance for STR owners. Despite the often contentious questions, Doyle remarked that the owners’ participation is an important part of creating an effective permitting process.
According to research conducted for the county planning department, Ulster County has close to 1200 STR units, though in a release last week Airbnb alone claimed 1800 in Ulster County. Doyle said that over 500 of those are located in Woodstock, and that Shandaken was probably second or third in terms of number of STRs in a single township. County law requires hotels to register and pay a two percent room tax. STRs fall in the same category, and some cities have arranged for Airbnb to pay the tax directly. County attorneys say the local law does not permit collection of the room tax from a third party but must come directly from the property owner. Since the county began sending out letters to STR owners asking them to register, about half have responded. The rest will require follow-up.
Doyle cited disadvantages of STRs — inconvenience to neighbors from inadequately supervised guests; the presence of “dark neighborhoods” where homes are active only on weekends due to second-homers and STRs rentals; and the decrease in residents invested in participation in community organizations. Most of these issues are reduced when the STR owners are full-time residents, so one goal of regulation for some towns has been to limit the number of non-residential STR operators.
When one homeowner in the audience pointed out that people who invest in STRs have been known to renovate derelict buildings that would remain otherwise uninhabited, Doyle said regulations could be crafted to encourage such activity while discouraging investors from scooping up homes in flourishing neighborhoods.
Doyle also noted advantages of STRs, which increase the presence of customers for businesses and recreation outlets, as well as generating income for the homeowners. “We support the idea of allowing STRs, particularly if they’re owner-occupied,” he said. “But there has to be a way to balance the positive aspects versus the negatives. We want to protect the values and needs of the community while providing economic feedback.”
Towns have come up with measures such as allowing STRs only in certain zones and requiring that owners reside in the property a minimum number of days per year. Doyle said people who have already made investments in STRs should be grandfathered in under any new regulations. The permitting process often involves inspections, a renewal period, the ability to revoke a permit in the case of repeated violations, and fees to cover the work of administration. Doyle added that it’s important to communicate with residents so they are aware of the new regulations.
Survey being designed
When the STR committee convened, Stanley read off a list of possible survey questions for town residents. The questionnaire would begin with profile data (whether full-time or part-time resident, length of time in the town, etc.) and then ask about the respondent’s familiarity and experience with STRs. Other questions might seek opinions about where STRs should be allowed and what potential provisions of the permitting process they favor.
There was debate about whether the survey should be conducted online or by mail. Stanley said the spring or summer would probably be the best time to send it out. The committee will continue working on the questionnaire, and an insurance agent will be invited to the next meeting to discuss liability issues and whether the built-in insurance offered by STR platforms is sufficient coverage. Now that the town board has approved an information-sharing agreement with the county, the committee expects to receive data on the town’s STR population.
The next meeting of the STR committee will be held at the town hall on Monday, February 11, at 6:30 p.m.
Disclosure: The writer rents her full-time residence intermittently on Airbnb but is not a member of the Phoenicia Home Sharing Association.