Owners who rent out their properties to visitors in Gardiner once again turned out in force for the Town Board meeting that took place on January 14, with the agenda promising an in-depth discussion of a proposed new local law to regulate short-term rentals such as AirBnBs, previously not addressed under the Town Code. As the meeting was not yet a public hearing on the law, which is still in the early stages of being drafted, town supervisor Marybeth Majestic warned the interested parties packing Town Hall that their input would be limited to “about a ten-minute opportunity,” following discussion by the board members. But the questions and comments went on considerably longer than the allotted time, with several STR proprietors expressing alarm about the impact that any regulation might have on the income potential of their properties.
The board members began by sharing their ideas about what the upper limit should be for the number of days in a year that a room or whole house could be rented out as a tourist accommodation. The consensus so far among municipal officials has been that non-owner-occupied houses have generally proven more problematic and require stricter regulation than single rooms in occupied homes. Citing a precedent set by the City of Austin in which two different versions of the STR permit are issued, with higher caps set on owner-occupied versus non-owner-occupied buildings, councilman Franco Carucci suggested that Gardiner take the same approach. He speculated that a cap of 120 to 160 days per year “should alleviate most of the concerns we’ve had.”
Councilman Warren Wiegand noted that the Ulster County Planning Board has set limits of not more than 180 days per year on whole-house rentals, reflecting the regulations adopted in towns such as Woodstock and Esopus whose local economies depend heavily on tourist accommodations. (Supervisor Majestic later clarified that this county guideline may be overridden by a Town Board, but only by a “supermajority” vote.) Wiegand said that he saw Gardiner as being “in the Rhinebeck/Geneva category: the lower end of the spectrum,” citing two New York towns that limit whole-house STRs to 16 and 28 days per year respectively. “I think 30 days per year would be a good balancing act,” he said. “That would allow rentals for 15 weekends.”
“At first, I didn’t want any whole-house at all,” said councilman David Dukler, adding that he had modified his stance somewhat in response to the input that STR owners have been sending to the board. For non-owner-occupied properties, he said, “I want to put on an aggressive cap: probably 60 days maximum.” He suggested that exceptions might be made in the case of extreme financial hardship, but that STR operators should then be willing to “share their income tax information with the Town Board.”
Councilwoman Laura Walls took a different tack, floating the idea of a three-year “amnesty” from time limits for non-owner-operated STRs who registered their businesses with the Ulster County Planning Board by August of 2019 and appeared on the list that agency recently provided to Gardiner. “Let them come into compliance” in a gradual manner, she suggested. With regard to owner-occupied STRs, she said that she had “very few concerns. A cap is not needed.” But when “the whole house is essentially a lodging facility,” neighborhoods may be adversely impacted, according to Walls, who has consistently expressed concern about the impact on local housing costs of speculative buying of homes by non-residents exclusively for renting out to tourists. After the expiration of a three-year amnesty, she said, “Any of the numbers you’ve talked about are okay with me.” Carucci expressed support for the amnesty concept as well.
Majestic weighed in on the side of a 60-to-90-day annual cap on rental days, with a “One strike, you’re out” policy on violations. But none of the numbers suggested sat well with some STR owners in attendance, who have heretofore not had to contend with any regulation at all under the Gardiner code. When the supervisor asked attendees what they thought would be a reasonable cap, one person in the audience shouted out, “364 days!”
“Thirty days is effectively a ban,” said one audience member not on the county list, who bought “the oldest wooden house in Gardiner” last June and plans to begin renting it soon as “a way to make ends meet…I’m not looking to have parties there.” He asked for an alternative approach for STR owners who are new to the process and thus would not qualify for the amnesty. “We should give an opportunity to those who are not registered,” Carucci agreed.
“I’ve been doing this for ten years,” said one attendee who identified himself as owning multiple STRs where he is not an occupant. “I put 15 to 17 percent of our income back into the buildings.” Property damage and behavior disruptive to neighbors have not been problematic, he said, because “We have a camera.”
Another audience member characterized complaints about STRs as “manufactured problems.” “Why does this have to be one-and-done?” he asked. “Why not start monitoring this, have a training?’
One STR owner expressed concern that any limits on the number of days, if implemented immediately upon passage of a local law, could “make a big mess for a lot of people” who book rooms for “people from out-of-town a year, year-and-a-half in advance.” She suggested that any law “make allowance for contracts in existence” and that limits be based on “stays, not days.”
Some board members seemed receptive to the idea that other parameters besides an annual day limit could be incorporated into the framing of the new law. Noting that “There are quite a few hurdles to get over before we can advance,” Majestic said that a special meeting solely to address the wording might be necessary before a draft can be sent to the town’s attorney for review. “We should commit to making decisions at that meeting and not leave until we do,” said Dukler.
“This is a real opportunity for the Town of Gardiner,” Walls said. “Value can come from it. But it has to be done in an organized, deliberate, legal way.”