Please Note: This article was originally written in April after the Public Hearing on Short-Term Rentals on April 2, 2018, but had not been published yet. It is being published now to be used as reference for an upcoming article after Beacon's City Council voted on May 21, 2018, against creating legislation to officially legalize Short-Term Rentals, thus leaving them illegal by default.
Attending the Public Hearing on Short-Term Rentals was an enlightening experience to hear the inner workings of how renting out one's home - or a room in one's home - works on Airbnb. The meeting was not specific to Airbnb, but most everyone who voiced their feedback for the proposed legislation was using Airbnb and referred to it in their experience. There was not a common thread to identify a single type of person who would use Airbnb. They were men, women, single men, single women, people with young children, people who cleaned the Airbnb homes, renters or homeowners who lived below or next to a property listed on Airbnb.
What Is Available in Beacon on Airbnb?
Before we get into what the public said, let's take a look at what is available on Airbnb in Beacon, and how people approach it here. The photo above includes a picture of penguins that hangs in a room available on a short-term basis. That is the "Antarctica Room" that you can rent from Aga and David, who may be in the house with you during your stay in this private room, or they can leave you in private. According to the listing, "the room currently displays an exhibition of Antarctica by your host." It comes with a hair dryer, option of a bassinet, and "the queen-size bamboo mattress is the right blend of firmness, softness and all around comfiness with lux linen bedsheets." This listing has 85 all-star reviews, and does not allow smoking, pets, or parties. What did one guest think?
"We really enjoyed our stay in Beacon at Aga and David's place! Our visit was brief, but it was nice to get to meet David. The room is charming, the private bathroom is so nice, and we loved their taste in decor. And the bed was very comfortable. :)
This Goldilocks rooming scenario is very real in Beacon and all over the world, but is largely unregulated. Beacon's city government is stepping up to the plate again, after trying once in 2014, to try to regulate it. Based on recent outcry from neighbors of a house purchased as an investment property by a Beacon resident, David Allis at 51 Orchard Place, the City Council scheduled a public hearing to hear ideas and feedback from the people of Beacon. Said Mayor Randy Casale at the meeting: "Right now they [short-term rentals] are all illegal. We are trying to figure a law out to make it legal."
Those Not In Favor...
Submitted to the public hearing was a petition with 70 signatures. Elaine Ciaccio, a neighbor of the Orchard Street house, asked for specific regulations:
We call on the City of Beacon to regulate short-term rentals in single-family residential neighborhoods. In the last four years the number of short-term rentals have more than doubled. This destabilizes our
neighborhoods, effects quality of life and has a negative impact on the rental market.
- Ban non-owner occupied whole home short-term rentals.
- Require registration and establish regulations that maintain the zoned character of our residential neighborhoods.
Also submitted, but not read aloud, was a letter from Airbnb written by Andrew Kalloch (click here to get the letter titled "Airbnb testimony" who works with Airbnb's Public Policy. According Airbnb's letter, the listing service "has brought over 300 million guests in 4.5 million listings in 81,000 cities in nearly every country across the globe." In Beacon in 2017, according to the letter, there were 110 "active hosts" who served 9,100 guests.
Who Attended the Public Hearing on Short-Term Rentals?
Over 30 Beacon residents spoke at the podium to voice their opinions and experiences. A majority of those citizens were Airbnb short-term rental landlords who rented out all or part of their primary residence. At least two of the speakers were homeowners who had purchased at least one other home for the sole purpose of Airbnb-ing it: David Allis on Orchard Place, and the owner of Play, the kids' toy store on Main Street.
The owner of Play stated: "I consider it a public service. I love Airbnb. Have been using it for 12 years myself. I go every summer with my dog and my family and usually another family, and we share a place. I offer that to people coming to Beacon. It’s a dog-friendly place, it’s a fenced yard. People love it."
Some people speaking were not short-term landlords, but attended to voice favor for the practice; among them was one woman who is employed by short-term landlords to clean their homes in preparation for guests. No hotel owners or bed-and-breakfast owners voiced their opinion at this public hearing.
Short-Term Rentals and Airbnb's Self-Governing System of Safety
While the meeting's purpose was to hear feedback on the experience of providing a short-term rental from one's home in general, all of the people in attendance who offered short-term rentals were doing so using Airbnb (which is not the only site to offer that service). Their feedback about renting in the short-term was interwoven with descriptions of how short-term landlords/homeowners must interact with Airbnb's rules.
Several homeowners spoke about how guests are screened, and more than one attendant had children. One homeowner, theater producer Jessica Jelliffe, lives in her 100-year-old home with her husband, 5-year-old son, and a legal long-term tenant which she says covers their mortgage. When they needed extra income, she made her job to be managing the short-term rental side with Airbnb.
Guests have to go through a three-step verification process that the host sets the limits for, that ensures that [the guests] are who they say they are. The star rating and the review process after the guest has stayed with us ensures that the location is what it says it is. And if anything isn’t fit or isn’t how it was described or is unsafe in any way, shape, or form, they let other potential guests know by giving a lower number of stars and/or giving public feedback or private feedback, which I always pay close attention to because it directly effects my business. As a traditional landlord. I know more about my Airbnb guests than I do about my own tenant.
Speaking of long-term tenants, experiences with those were vocalized as well. Daniel Aubry, a realtor, commented that he has rented to long-term and short-term tenants, and it was his long-term tenant who caused him the most problems. "My poor neighbors had to suffer his rantings. It took me three months to get him out." Mike Diago, a social worker and father of a young son, owns the self-proclaimed "most famous Airbnb in town - an intimidating 13-foot turquoise camper" with his wife. He commented on his good neighbor policy: "I checked with all my neighbors. Triple checked. 'No problem at all, Mike.' One guest asked [my neighbor] for sugar, and I was mortified."
Short-Term vs Long-Term Tenants
According to Airbnb's statistics, the typical host earned about $8,800 last year by renting their space for about four nights a month, reinforcing the fact that most hosts are not full-time “commercial” operators. 70 percent of Beacon hosts are women, and the average age of hosts is 46, with 15 percent of hosts over the age of 60. Supplemental income from short-term rentals (STR) is particularly important to this population, which often struggles to “age in place” on fixed incomes.