UPDATE: The Public Hearing took place. Here is a summation of the resulting draft of legislation, which the City Council will discuss at the next Workshop on Monday, April 9, 2018.
This Monday, April 2, 2018, the City of Beacon's City Council will hear from the public about new legislation for Airbnb hosts, which are technically called "short-term rentals." The Airbnb market in Beacon is booming, bringing people from all over the country - and probably the world - into Beacon. A search for "Beacon" on Airbnb brings up over 300 results of places you can rent, from luxury lofts to secluded houses in the woods to charming cottages just steps from Main Street. It's a real estate dabbler's dream.
Personally, I don't Airbnb, but do like to have the option if I needed or wanted it. I do rent space in my business office, so I'm familiar with the work involved in managing a short-term rental on a daytime level. The idea has occurred to me to invest in a second home in Beacon, as a way to supplement my parents having a home here when they visit us as they get older. But Airbnbing can have some hiccups. I had some folks from California searching for a key in the mailbox on my front porch because they had the wrong house. No biggie, they were plenty friendly. I have also received a pizza delivery for what is probably that same Airbnb, who gave the wrong street type - is it Street or Lane?
According to Beacon Mayor Randy Casale at a 1/29/2018 City Council meeting, "There are no rules and regulations [for Airbnb], and by rights, they are really illegal." Yet if you talk to the Building Inspector, Timothy Dexter, at a 2/13/2018 Workshop meeting: "They’re not necessarily illegal by zoning. … They are probably all in violation of a zoning ordinance if they start to rent out a room or two." The building inspector encourages a "path to compliance," so that rentals who do violate code could make changes to be within code and become legal. But those requirements are often expensive, involving installation of sprinkler systems, particular windows, and other fire safety investments. From councilperson George Mansfield, who tries to find a guiding line through the thick nuances of the booming short-term rental market, where the landscape is a little bit undefined, unregulated Wild West, "We have to make them align with New York State Code."
If you moved to Beacon looking to own a home and not be beholden to a homeowners association like you might in an apartment building or condo complex, here's the memo you missed: Your homeowners association is actually several people on three boards (City Council, Zoning Board and the Planning Board), members of the public who attend the City Council meeting to voice their opinions, and New York state law. All of the people on these boards make up the rules of what you can and cannot do. Surprise!
This is not the first time the city has considered legislation around residences. Mayor Casale mentioned during the 1/29/2018 meeting that he has been discussing it since 2014, and a law was drafted in 2015, but was abandoned when consensus could not be reached. People from the community forced this issue back onto the table after the new owner of the house at 51 Orchard Place cut down over a dozen trees without a permit. That incident alone sparked a revisiting of legislation and fines that a property owner could be faced with.
The property owner, David Allis, is a resident of Beacon and purchased 51 Orchard Place as an investment property, not a primary residence. When he let the property's neighbors know of his intentions to list it on Airbnb, those neighbors came before the City Council to voice their opposition, stating that they wanted a family living there, not many people who come and go. David's property had been listed on Airbnb in 2018, but at this publishing date, the listing had been removed.
According to the Mayor's comments during a 2/13/2018 Workshop meeting on Airbnbs, he has received an uptick of emails asking him to enforce any law about short-term rentals. “I feel helpless," said Mayor Casale. "People call me and complain every day: ‘All these Airbnbs in Beacon are illegal - what are you doing about it? Honestly, we’re not doing anything about it because I’m being told it can’t be enforced unless you can prove that somebody stayed there. You just can’t go on advertisement. So I tried to get a law so we could say, 'If you’re advertising, we know you’re doing it.’ I don’t care if they are legal or illegal. As I sit here as the mayor, if they are illegal, and people are calling me asking why aren’t you enforcing it, I need to have a mechanism where I can enforce it."
What's The Big Deal With Short-Term Rentals?
The business model of a short-term rental is very enticing. You open your home to a renter for a night or several, you collect rent money, they experience a nice new place, and you're all happy. The regulation of such a business transaction happening in a residential neighborhood, however, is gridlocked with nuances and variables.
Some of those nuances have been discussed by Beacon's City Council. Here's a simple summation of some of the issues.
- Owner Occupied: Should these short-term rentals need to be owned as a primary residence by the homeowner? And not as an investment property, being used solely for short-term rental and not the regular long-term (over 30 days) rental? Meaning, you need to live in the house that you are renting on a short-term basis, and not other houses that you own. From the draft of the proposed legislation: "Owner-occupancy. It shall be unlawful to use, establish, maintain, operate, occupy, rent or lease any property as a short-term rental if the property is not owner-occupied. The property used as a short-term rental shall be the principal residence of the owner at all times during the term of the permit."
- Fire Safety + New York State Law: State law requires places who rent as "transient" rentals to comply with fire codes. According to the Building Inspector, these are typically defined as boarding houses, hotels and motels. But the designation for people's personal homes has not been defined.
- Inspections: Should these homes and apartments be inspected? Mayor Casale suggests "at least once per year like any other public place" as a possibility.
- Neighborly Conduct: Will transient guests take care of a home and neighborhood? Or trash the place? Will owners of investment properties who live out of state - or out of Beacon at all - be less invested in the community?
- Home Price Increases with Investment Properties: As homes are taken off the market in order to be short-term rental units, Beacon's City Planner suggests that this impacts the price of homes in general, making it harder for families to purchase in neighborhoods.
- Neighborhoods - the Definition of a Neighborhood: If investment properties for short-term rentals increase, what does that do to a neighborhood? Who would kids play with if most of the houses around them are Airbnbs, if investors are buying them and not occupying them as a family who rents out from time to time? Airbnb is hoping that investment properties do increase and has introduced out new services for hosts to be Manager Hosts, who manage people's listings. Running a short-term rental isn't always easy in practice. Accidents happen, oil leaks on driveways, fences break, paint chips, windows crack, homes need to be cleaned, beds stripped, nice soaps put out, etc.
- Insurance: How would that work? Antalek & Moore explained some of it here, and Airbnb does offer coverage for listings through them, but nothing is black and white.
- Permit: Should these homes and apartments be registered and permitted?
- Violations of Permit: Violate too many times, you get your permit pulled.
- Enforcement of Regulations: How can a city enforce the rules they set up?
Fire Safety - A Driving Force in the Proposed Law
Homes and apartments that make themselves available as short-term rentals fall into the zone of R1, according to Beacon's Building Inspector. In his letter prepared for tonight's meeting, he explains that a large motivation of the code is written for fire safety. He argues that people who are not familiar with a home vs traditional layout of a commercial building with expected fire exits, kits, sprinklers, etc. are more prone to getting hurt. In his words from his 3/22/2018 memo addressed to the City Council:
"Short-term rentals by their very nature are transient occupancies which in the International Building Code are considered an R1 use group. Typical transient occupancies are boarding houses, hotels, and motels. We have to apply the appropriate regulations for the individual use group which will tell us when and where fire alarm systems, fire sprinkler systems, exit signage, emergency lighting, and other life safety provisions need to be provided.
Authors of the International Building and Fire Code recognize as people are less familiar with their surroundings as transient guests there is a need for a higher level of fire protection."
Background Reading for Airbnb Legislation for Short-Term Rentals
The April 2 City Council Meeting marks the first Public Hearing on the matter, which means that the public is invited and encouraged to come to the City Council meeting to voice their opinions to the council members. The City Council meetings are held at 1 Municipal Plaza, which is the white building on 9D (aka Wolcott Avenue) that also houses the Police Department. The background prep work to read before the meeting to help you follow along better is here: Consideration of a Proposed Local Law to Create Section 223-26.4 in the City Code Concerning Short-Term Rentals. It includes:
- Letter from Beacon's Building Inspector, Timothy Dexter, about Building Code Provisions.
- Definitions of what is currently in building code.
- The latest proposed local law (aka "PPL"). There have been a few of these.
Beacon's City Council has met twice in 2018 about this matter: once as a regular City Council Meeting, and once during a Workshop where they focus on ideas about what to do about this issue. April 2, 2018, marks the first Public Hearing about it, where the public can give their perspectives and opinions.