The nitty-gritty of regulating short-term rentals and enforcing the regulations can be very complex, as many municipalities in Ulster County and elsewhere are finding out.
The Woodstock Town Board is tentatively in favor of granting about a dozen provisional short-term rental permits (STRs) to those who “had slipped through the cracks.” The housing committee is against the idea.
“The housing committee in concept supports many of the recommendations of the [local] STR task force and some ideas offered by the STR Association,” housing committee member Urana Kinlen told the town board at its February 21 meeting. ”We firmly believe that the town needs a more complete picture of STRs, their ownership, and common practices in our community before writing more law. We also believe it is prudent to see how any new state laws will impact our local law.”
The housing committee wants the town to gather and share with the public data on STR listings, days rented, rental income, permits, and locations. It recommends the town justices coordinate with the building department to ensure follow-through and consequences for violations. It favors the town substantially increasing its fees and fines to support enforcement and to help build a dedicated fund to meet housing needs. Finally, it recommends the town board review permits and create a cap on the number of STRs for individual neighborhoods within the town.
“Otherwise, we do not support amending the caps without further information,” Kinlen said.
Heather Cross is a member of the STR Association, a group of second-home owners who ran short-term rentals before the town enacted restrictive regulations. She said the town needed to focus on stopping nuisance property usage that negatively impacted the community, on eliminating investment-property ownership, and on increasing the supply of affordable housing.
“We know that doing this work will take time and the effort of many volunteers. We’re ready to help with the work and can bring our insight and experience to make sure the law is drafted in a way that accomplishes its goals and can be equitably enforced,” Cross said. “[It] has been over two years since the town began notifying our members we would no longer [be able to] rent their homes out as short-term without a permits, and no work permits were available to us.”
She requested the issuance of provisional STR status for these owners.
Mick Breitenstein, a Woodstock native and STR owner, said he realized the impact of short-term rentals on affordable housing. “I have family members and friends and employees that suffer that challenge. So I’m going to be clear I’m not unsympathetic to that. I also want to note that I think there’s more short-term rental owners that are local in the area than you may be aware of,” he said. “And during Covid, when I was out of work for two years, it helped me keep my home. I think STRs get wrapped up with out-of-towners coming in buying up homes.”
Council member Bennet Ratcliff was concerned that the STR regulations were wrapped up in zoning code. He thought this larger law should be located outside the zoning code. The code enforcement officer had so many other things to do.
“I really do believe that the code enforcement officers are not trained to do daily scraping on multiple platforms to find out where different STRs are or are not located,” he argued. “I don’t think that the code enforcement officers are having enough time in the day to sort of match up to see every single listing on every single platform has the correct permit on it. It just seems to me that what we’re asking of an officer just doesn’t match up with what a code enforcement officer could or should be doing.”
Ratcliff provided examples within the complex Woodstock housing universe. “There are residents who occupy their properties, but that rent out to STRs their accessory dwelling unit. There are also residents who rent out their entire house, and then go stay in their accessory dwelling unit. Are we giving a permit for the house or the ADU? Are we giving it for the property itself?” he asked.
Supervisor Bill McKenna defended the enforcement, noting that 232 STRs have not been rented in a year because of enforcement.
Ratcliff said he was in favor of granting the provisional STR permits as long as they met the requirements.
McKenna said he had suggested that two months ago, but nobody had responded.
“There were a handful of individuals who, when we passed the law, started to run STRs, or maybe had been doing it illegally before, but thought they were in compliance, got their county number, and thought they were registered. And then, when the cap got filled, they got cut off,’ McKenna said. “Those are the 25 or so and it might be less than that now, that if we’re going to do it at all, it would be those. Some have dropped out, so the number may be around twelve. My suggestion would be that we do it on a temporary basis … We will do this for the year and then next year see where we are and make changes. They could potentially lose them or not.”