Airbnbs, or short-term rentals in general, have been a frustrating subject to write regulations for. A discussion of regulations to cover them became heated at a Saugerties Village Board meeting on Monday, July 18.
Code Enforcement Officer Eyal Saad offered the board some guidelines he had found in most of the laws he had read involving short-term rentals. “I have looked at the regulations from municipalities that have regulations for B&B’s. They talk about occupant safety, they talk about the aesthetics of the property and last, but not least, parking.” Saad reminded the board that in the year that the issue has been discussed, “we have gotten zero complaints about Airbnbs. Zero complaints.”
Several board members immediately responded that a number of residents in the Town of Saugerties had indeed complained about noise and trespassing, but Saad responded that what the town does is “not my problem.”
“I’ve had a lot of complaints about Airbnbs,” said Trustee Donald Hackett. “I’ve brought them to you and we’ve talked about them.”
“You’re talking about parking,” Saad said. While he would not say there are no problems, he reiterated that he has not received any official complaints. “So you want people to give you documented complaints, now. Fine; I’ll have a whole bunch for you at the end of the week.”
Saad reiterated that he had not received any formal complaints, but “I’m not saying it’s not an issue. The one that did call us, other than what we talked about, said they wish they’d changed their house to an Airbnb.
Saad said the issues he had found in his survey of other towns should be included in the law. While he is willing to consult with board members and others involved in writing a law, he did not think that this should be his decision.
“A committee of the board should sit down and say this is what we want, and this is what we don’t want,” Saad said. “Usually laws are based on needs of the community and here there are no real needs. Occupant safety is addressed by New York State code. Aesthetics? If the property is a dump, Airbnb is not going to put it on the market so the property has to be maintained pretty good. We can address it in the law and we can address parking in the law, but I don’t see how we can maintain that law. We can put a law on the books, but if it’s not enforceable or it is not enforced properly, then why would we put it on the books.” While the immediate need is parking, occupant safety is his priority, Saad said.
Trustee Jeff Helmet said Airbnb has removed residences from its list of approved properties.
“Do people come and do inspections?” asked Trustee Vince Buono. Saad said he doesn’t know how Airbnb maintains its standards, but occupant safety is covered by the state’s building codes.
“How are building codes being addressed at your home?” Saad responded.
“But this is a business,” Buono said. If a family is living in a house and they decide to use part of the house as an Airbnb, “in my eyes, it’s no longer a single-family house; it’s a two-family house.” Under current law, if a home is converted to a multi-family, the owner must notify the village. Hackett said that the homeowner might not see the conversion as a two-family home, just that “it’s a B&B now.”
Trustee Jeannine Mayer pointed out that while board members and Saad used the term “Airbnb,” there are other companies in the field. She suggested “short-term rental” as a more inclusive term.
Mayor Bill Murphy said the board had passed an ordinance several years ago requiring that if someone who does not live in the village rents their house, they must designate a village resident to receive complaints, “and that has worked out pretty well. I’m sure there are some people that don’t [register], but if we put something in place and send it out, I’m sure we will get honest people to say, ‘I’ve got an Airbnb and I’ve got to register.”
The question of a fee for short-term rental units came up, and board members agreed that none of the municipalities that are developing laws to cover short-term rentals have come up with solutions. However, Hackett pointed out that, “I pay the same tax rate as the five Airbnbs that take up all the parking in the whole area.” The board agreed that parking is the big issue, though it’s not just short-term rentals, but a problem across the village. However, short-term rentals do add to the problem, and their contribution to it needs to be addressed.
Saad suggested that a committee discussing the law could focus on the three topics he had identified; a board member suggested adding noise to the list. Buono suggested adding curfew to the list.
The committee should include resident other than committee members, the board agreed. Helmuth said he would like to see customers of customers of Airbnbs on the committee. People who operate Airbnbs could also sit on the committee or act as advisers, Trustees said.
Following the meeting, Hackett said that anyone interested in serving on the committee could contact him by email, firstname.lastname@example.org.