Municipal discussions held via Zoom don’t allow much provision for participants to wave torches and pitchforks, but operators of short-term rentals (STRs) in Gardiner wielded plenty of angry comments in the chat function of the special meeting called by the Town Board on March 16 to continue shaping the proposed Short-Term Rental Law. No votes were ultimately taken, and changes to the current draft were deferred to the board’s regular April meetings, but several members indicated a willingness to tweak a few of the proposed law’s least popular provisions before passage.
Much of the audience’s ire was focused on deputy supervisor Laura Walls, who alone continued to urge that the law as drafted (viewable at www.townofgardiner.org/short-term-rental-law) be passed unchanged, with the option of amending it in a year’s time if necessary, based on its observed effectiveness. Walls has consistently taken the position that the trend for turning former residential housing into tourist accommodations is a major factor in making home purchases and long-term rentals in Gardiner unaffordable, and that local quality of life suffers as well when renters are transient.
“You’re taking a family home off the market that a family could live in, so that they can have a short-term rental. But visitors come and visitors go. We want people to live here who will vest here,” Walls argued. “If people are coming and going, you don’t have a neighborhood.”
Town supervisor Marybeth Majestic noted that Gardiner was Number One on the list of most expensive communities to live in, according to Ulster County’s most recently released Housing Report. “That’s not something to be proud of,” she admitted. Other board members, however, questioned whether a causal relationship between STR conversions and rising home and rental prices had been definitively established. Councilman Franco Carucci said that STRs, with about 100 registered units, only constitute about four percent of the housing stock in Gardiner at present.
The meeting was convened to address five aspects of the proposed law that had drawn particular fire from current STR operators during the public hearing phase, which was closed earlier this month. The first of these, and the one on which board members seemed inclined to have the most wiggle room, was the provision that the STR must be the owner’s primary residence in order to qualify for a permit. Many public comments have stressed that renting out a whole house for part of the year while temporarily living elsewhere was the sole means by which some owners can afford to keep a house in Gardiner, which they intend to use as their primary residence at some future date.
The board floated the possibility of changing the law’s verbiage to require that a whole-house STR be the owner’s “legal” residence rather than “primary” residence. “There are definitions [of legal residence] that don’t specify that you have to spend most of your time there,” suggested councilman David Dukler. “It can be where you pay taxes, have a mortgage, where you vote.”
“If we make this very restrictive, we may put some good STR owners right out of business,” Carucci argued. “We can use fines and penalties to punish the bad actors. We should allow one short-term rental right out of the gate, whether you live in Gardiner or you live in Brooklyn.” He recommended that ownership by an LLC be prohibited outright, in order to curb investors from outside the region from buying up housing stock to convert to STRs strictly for profit.
Discussion of another objection frequently raised by local STR owners, the 100-day annual limit for whole-house rentals, was tabled until after the “primary residence” question is resolved. Current STR operators have also demanded that their rental businesses be “grandfathered,” in order to avoid jeopardizing contractual obligations with renters already incurred for the near future. Supervisor Majestic said that the board should consider delaying the law’s effective date or offering current registered operators a “grace period” to resolve such commitments, but “not grandfathering, because that implies in perpetuity.”
Another possibility raised by multiple board members was placing a cap on the total number of STR permits issued in the town in any given year, at a level that would discourage new investors without driving out any current operators. Such a provision is not included in the current draft of the law.