Beacon City Council Votes "No" to Airbnb Type Short-Term Rentals - Striking Down Their Own Legislation

 Photo Credit:  An Airbnb in Rome.  We did not want to affiliate anyone's unit with this article. When in Rome...

Photo Credit: An Airbnb in Rome. We did not want to affiliate anyone's unit with this article. When in Rome...

The headline of this article might seem odd, because it implies that Beacon's City Council was not in favor of short-term rentals (aka Airbnb or home-sharing). Council members actually largely did support homeowners renting out their homes to earn extra income. The night of the vote, homeowners who rent out spaces via the Airbnb website had come to the City Council meeting to ask the Council members to vote against the legislation that the Council had been crafting to legalize short-term rentals in Beacon based on the public's input for the past several months.

In a vote of 3-4, with Mayor Randy Casale, Jodi McCredo, and Lee Kyriacou voting "Yes" to legalize short-term rentals, the rest of the Council voted "No." After tallying the votes, the Mayor announced: "The law does not pass. What that means is that all short-term rentals are illegal in the City of Beacon."

The resulting silence was stupefying. It lasted for 24 seconds. The night had been set up for the vote to pass. Homeowners and people who cleaned short-term rentals had shown up to demonstrate their support for short-term rentals - yet asked for a "No" vote. They then got that "No" vote, along with the declaration that short-term rentals were illegal in Beacon because there was essentially no law at all in the first place to protect them.

Editor's Note, 6/1/2018: By default, short-term rentals in Beacon were prohibited, so they were never allowed in the first place (hard concept to grasp, but we explain below), nor had any protections. This legislation would have legalized them, and required them to get a permit.

Two additional pro-short-term rental laws were also being proposed, on the assumption that short-term rentals would be legalized:

  • One proposed law would set the new permit fee;
  • The other would have urged New York State to set its zoning code for short-term rentals, and separate short-term rentals from being classified as Bed and Breakfasts. At the state level, that classification requires that homes have sprinkler systems or egress windows for fire safety.

Technically, there is no law about short-term rentals in Beacon, so there is nothing in place to protect them. According to Beacon City Attorney Nick Ward-Willis, new things like short-term rentals that are not specifically written into Beacon’s Zoning Ordinance are prohibited. Said Nick via email: "The Beacon Zoning Ordinance provides in the Schedule of Use Regulations a list of permitted uses within a zoning district and provides that 'No building or premises shall be used and no building or part of a building shall be erected or altered, which is arranged, intended or designated to be used, in whole or in part, for any uses except the following [see the Schedule of Uses].' Any use not specifically listed shall be deemed to be prohibited.”

Why Now? Why Are Short-Term Rentals Being Contested?

Beacon’s City Council has been debating how to legalize short-term rentals since December 2017, after a Beacon resident and new owner of 51 Orchard Place cut down 13 trees in his yard without a permit, and listed the home on Airbnb. Some of his neighbors were enraged (others supported the tree removal), and brought to the City Council their concerns that homes in neighborhoods were being purchased not as primary residences, but as investment properties (aka "non-owner occupied"), thus altering the neighborhood feel.

Those against his listing of the Orchard Place property on Airbnb presented a petition to ask the City to define regulations about short-term rentals, but not stop the practice entirely. Neighbors were demanding that the City enforce that short-term rentals be illegal in Beacon, but there wasn't an ordinance either way about whether they were allowed or not. Hence the default to the rule that the City Attorney mentioned above.

The legislation that the City Council crafted (after several rounds of drafts) essentially legislated this house out of being a short-term rental because it was not the owner's primary residence. This home has since been unlisted from Airbnb, and put on the market for an asking price of $699,900. The Zillow estimate of the home is $412K.

Wait, What? Short-Term Rentals Are Illegal in Beacon?

According to a letter submitted by Airbnb to the City of Beacon, in 2017 alone, over 9,100 people stayed in Beacon in an Airbnb. Also in 2017, Dutchess County took in over $220,000 in taxes from the 4% Bed Tax paid by Airbnb on behalf of its homeowner hosts, according to Dutchess County Legislator Nick Page, who we reached out to for numbers. Based on those stats, there are far more people coming to stay the night in Beacon than there are hotel rooms to house them in Beacon or in Fishkill. There is a huge supply of people coming to Beacon to stay the night.

Other cities have been operational in the home-sharing market, but in an unregulated or protected way. For instance, in a suburb of Columbus, OH, called Upper Arlington, Airbnb was beginning to thrive, as people would seek to stay there when visiting for Ohio State University games. Last month, Upper Arlington voted to make all short-term rentals illegal, and stated to revisit it in one year.

Beacon had been drafting a law to allow short-term rentals (see our highlights of what was in or out here). Some topics that were addressed included possible limits on how many days a property could be rented, and what spaces were not rentable - attics, or basements, or RVs and tents in backyards. Other cities do have a limit on the number of nights homeowners can rent out, and Beacon started with a 100-day maximum, but during a public meeting, Council Person John Rembert suggested that the council revisit that after hearing public pushback against the maximum. The City Council did throw out that maximum. See the final version of the law here for what was included or not.

The final version of the bill called for one added expense for homeowners: a permit that would be good for two years and could be renewed. And that was the only added expense.

The Issue of the Sprinklers

Once you have the OK to set up shop in Beacon as a short-term rental, you have to also be OK with New York State code, and in compliance with whatever the state says. The state has not yet defined its code requirements for short-term rentals. It drafted a law, but that law has been stalled for a long time. In New York's draft of a brand-new state law for short-term rentals, sprinklers are not mentioned, and the fire-safety requirements for a homeowner would include "conspicuously" posting a list of emergency phone numbers for police, fire and poison control. They would also need to have a working fire extinguisher. However, we asked Beacon's Dutchess County Legislator, Nick Page, if he knew of any movement on that new bill. "Not as far as I know," was his answer.

If there is no code specified, Beacon's Building Inspector, Timothy Dexter, has stated that he would go by the Bed and Breakfast fire code, which requires sprinkler systems in the home or an egress window that can be pushed out.

Homeowners found that threatening and not affordable. However, if New York State completes their law, this could all be a moot point. The Beacon law was requiring that homeowners comply with New York State law - which people need to do anyway with state laws. Beacon's law was simply to say that short-term rentals in a primary residence were OK, and outlined some rules - which did not specify sprinklers.

What Was Beacon's Law For? What Got Voted "No"?

Beacon's law would have legalized short-term rentals in the city of Beacon, and had nothing to do with state law (because there currently is no state law around short-term rentals). The state law could have included the sprinklers depending on interpretation by the Building Inspector, based on guidance he got from the state, according to the City Attorney. During the night of the city council's vote, the City Attorney went on to say that the state has to regulate short-term rentals somewhere, and until there is something official, that somewhere is code relating to Bed and Breakfasts. However, he noted, the regulation could be in a more restrictive area called R1, but the State is seeking the less restrictive of Bed and Breakfast.

Said the City Attorney that night: “We are talking about two distinctions. What the zoning permits, versus what the state permits. You can regulate zoning, but you can’t regulate what the state code provides for.” Two different laws. Beacon's law would only have green-lighted the concept of short-term rentals in the Schedule of Uses, and how that would work.

Here's a screenshot of what a portion of what Beacon's Schedule of Uses mentioned above looks like. See those line items? Behind each item on this list is how the area of interest would work, according to how the City of Beacon regulated it. The short-term rentals regulation would have put Short-Term Rentals onto this list, with certain rules to follow (here's a link to the law's final draft, which was voted down).

zoning chapter 223 screenshot.jpeg

Remember About the Tattoo Parlors? An Ordinance Was Written To Make Tattoo Parlors Illegal in Beacon, Until...

Editor's Note: This section was edited on 6/13/2018 after more information was provided by Keith Zahra in the Comment section).

Alright. Do you see Tattoo Parlors in the list above? Many years ago in 2000, under a totally different City Council, there was a tattoo parlor in town called Zahra's Studio. Tattoo parlors didn't have an ordinance at all. Much like short-term rentals don't have an ordinance at the moment (which by Beacon law, makes them illegal unless they have an ordinance defining how they should run). Some people didn't want tattoo parlors in town anymore. To lock that in and make sure the tattoo parlor couldn't operate legally, an ordinance was written and passed that banned any and all tattoo parlors. Zahra's Studio eventually closed, but not because of the ordinance, according to owner Keith Zahra in the Comment section of this article below!

Said Keith in an outtake of the comment below: "[I was] Open and running for years after the statues of limitations voided any possible future enforcement of the existing tattooing laws. I had a New York State Supreme Court lawsuit filed against City of Beacon for constitutional violations. This case is a lot more complicated than the simplicity of a prohibition and a grandfather clause. City of Beacon violated tattoo artist’s rights like no other government municipality in the country, it was becoming a legal precedence in the industry." Scroll down or click here to read more about his experience with the law. Twelve years later, that rule was reversed, and tattoo parlors were allowed.

 Matthew Montleon, owner of Honorable Ink, was responsible for instigating the reversal of a law that prohibited tattoo parlors in Beacon.  There is no law written to prohibit short-term rentals in Beacon, but City Council voted down a law written to protect them, leaving short-term rental law in the gray and beholden to default law.  Photo Credit: Katie Hellmuth Martin

Matthew Montleon, owner of Honorable Ink, was responsible for instigating the reversal of a law that prohibited tattoo parlors in Beacon.  There is no law written to prohibit short-term rentals in Beacon, but City Council voted down a law written to protect them, leaving short-term rental law in the gray and beholden to default law.
Photo Credit: Katie Hellmuth Martin

Matthew Montleon, founder of Honorable Ink, the popular tattoo parlor on Main Street, approached the City Council in 2012 to have this reversed so that he could open his own tattoo parlor, Honorable Ink. According to a Poughkeepsie Journal article he has framed in his establishment, he had the support of Mayor Casale and Council Person George Mansfield, who worked to reverse the rule, saying that tattoos were part of our culture now, especially in our artist-friendly town of Beacon. You may remember the videos on it as Matthew showed up to debate the topic and present his case.

According to Matthew, not only did the City Council reverse the ordinance, but Mayor Casale suggested writing a new ordinance to legalize tattoo parlors, which would have set rules on how tattoo parlors could operate in Beacon, assuming they followed New York State health code and any other code New York State set. This is how legalizing tattoo parlors in Beacon in 2012 played out.

This situation could be likened to the move to legalize short-term rentals in Beacon. Only this time, Council Person George Mansfield voted against legalizing short-term rentals, and the Mayor voted for legalizing short-term rentals. Even though both of them were advocating for homeowners who wanted to rent their homes out in the short-term market.

New York State Law vs Beacon Law - Totally Different Things

Being that there is no clear-cut definition of fire safety code for these properties, Beacon's Building Inspector was leaning toward enforcing sprinkler systems or egress windows as called for in the New York State law concerning Bed and Breakfasts, based on guidance he got from the state, according to the City Attorney, who went on to explain:

 

“Other communities have not addressed this. ... They have turned a blind eye to the building code enforcement issue. Now that the issue is out there in the forefront, the building inspector’s viewpoint is it’s a fire, life, and safety issue, that ultimately is on him. If he turns a blind eye to it, and there is a casualty, ultimately it’s on him. I don’t want to be an alarmist, but there are examples of where there is criminal prosecution against building officials who do not enforce a code provisions when they are in knowing of violations. For him to continue to turn a blind eye, I don’t think is within his job description.”

 

It should be noted, however, that should New York State define its law, for short-term rentals, nothing changes in the Beacon law - only the requirements of the state law. Neither the proposed state law nor the Beacon law mentioned sprinkler systems or egress windows.

During the night of the vote, City Attorney Nick Ward-Willis recalled how he contacted a few people at the State level to get further clarification, but was unable to find any. "At the New York State Department of State (DOS), I spoke with Justin Cartwright, Director of Legislative Affairs for the NYS Department of State (who Airbnb referred us to). Mr. Cartwright referred us to Joseph Ball, Associate Attorney in the Department of State’s Office of General Counsel. We also spoke with Mark Miranda, Regional Contact, Department of State, Division of Standards and Codes." He was unable to get clear answers on fire-safety enforcement for short-term rentals, since no law exists.

Therefore, written into Beacon's law, was a requirement for the building inspector to inspect a prospective short-term rental to see if the short-term rental was compliant with "the International Series of Codes and New York State Code Supplement," and then make a recommendation from there. The city attorney also mentioned that an individual who disagrees with the building inspector’s interpretation of the International and State Code provisions may appeal to the NYS Department of State, Division of Building Standards and Codes, by filling out and submitting an application form available at: https://www.dos.ny.gov/Dcea/pdf/2078-a-f.pdf.

During the Council's last Workshop on short-term rentals on April 30, 2018, the City Attorney did suggest that a way to trigger New York State into addressing the fire code issue was to file a lawsuit against New York State.

Can Sprinklers Be Written Out of the Law?

Moments before the vote took place during the May 21, 2018, City Council Meeting, George Mansfield asked the city attorney if Beacon's law could be written so that sprinklers were not required. The Attorney answered that the law could not, that a state code could only be added to, and not subtracted from, at the city level. "The city does not have the ability to create laws or definitions or regulations for the State building code. You could apply stricter interpretations, but you can’t have it less permissive. The city does not have the ability to influence the State code interpretation."

The proposed local law required that homeowners follow New York State law, which could change at any time, given pressure to the state to complete their law. If New York State law changes, nothing would be amended into Beacon's law. Meaning, if New York follows through with only requiring a fire extinguisher and list of phone numbers, then that is what people would need to do because they need to follow New York State law.

Plus, Did You Know That Major US Cities Like NYC Actually Heavily Regulate Airbnb?

The headlines at major news outlets have been popping up recently. Some communities turned a blind eye to short-term rentals not being on the official list of things allowed and not allowed (like Beacon did). Others turned a blind eye, but after complaints, created legislation to officially shut down the practice (like Upper Arlington, that suburb outside of Columbus, OH). Cities like Miami Beach don't allow it in certain zones.

Surprisingly, New York City has very tight restrictions on short-term rentals, as pointed out by a recent CNBC article, which states:

 

New York City, which Airbnb lists as its top destination for guests, has some of the tightest restrictions on short-term rentals in the country. It is illegal to rent out an entire residence for less than 30 days in New York City. Short-term rentals are permitted only if the homeowner is also staying there throughout the rental period and there are no more than two renters.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law in 2016 making it illegal to advertise occupancy for short-term rentals in buildings with three or more units (here's the state law). Violators are subject to fines of up to $7,500.

 

Beacon's proposed law imposed no limit on the amount of nights the property could rent per calendar year. Beacon's proposed law did not require the homeowner to be on the property at the time of renting. Beacon's proposed law did not restrict short-term rentals by zone.

Did Beacon have a bird in hand, and not realize it?

Did the council members who voted "no" do it as a bluff or statement against the sprinklers (that weren't even in the local law)? Not realizing how many of them would trigger a majority?

Did that many constituents who supported short-term rentals ask their council member to vote "no," and were maybe confused about how a vote of "no" would pan out, or what it included? That this vote was a separate issue from The Sprinkler Issue?

Beacon Was Being Progressive - So What Happened?

The night of the vote, Council Person George Mansfield stated that his vote of "no" was contingent upon Beacon asking New York State to hurry up and decide already about their fire-safety code. However, a vote of "no" does nothing to protect short-term rentals during the time in which it takes New York State to move in any direction - which could be a long time.

Additionally, if New York State did decide to only require a list of phone numbers and a fire extinguisher as their required fire code in short-term rentals, the vote in Beacon would not be retroactive.

We reached out for comment from the council people and heard back from everyone but Mayor Casale, John Rembert and George Mansfield. They get a lot of emails, so we get it if ours was lost.

Terry Nelson, who voted against the legislation stated: "I personally received an overwhelming amount of email urging me to vote 'no' and these came from short-term rental (STR) owners. Their rationale was that the proposed resolution was a step towards driving them out of business. My reason for voting 'no' is that the resolution did not adequately address many of the subtle nuances of STR ownership. Also, it would create a system in which only those with the financial means would be able to be in the STR business."

When I asked Terry for clarification on the financial implication, Terry referred to the possible New York State mandated sprinkler system or egress window requirement that Bed and Breakfasts need to conform to. But sprinklers are not in the currently stalled New York State law, and they were not in the local Beacon proposed law. Terry referred to other fees in the proposed law, but there only seems to be a permit fee in Beacon's law. So fear of additional fees as a reason to vote no on Beacon's law is unclear, since the Beacon law that was up for a vote did not require sprinklers.

Jodi McCredo, who voted in favor of legalizing short-term rentals, stated: "I did receive requests to vote 'no' as well as requests to vote 'yes.' I believe that voting 'yes' to the law, along with the resolution to request state action and a grace period on the code until the end of the year, was the bast way to help our owner-occupied short-term rental hosts stay in business while shutting down the non-owner-occupied short-term rentals that most of the community seemed to be against. The 'no' vote simply shut down everyone."

Lee Kyriacou, who voted in favor of legalizing short-term rentals, stated: "There looked to be a concerted effort to encourage a 'no' vote. In my view, no change in current law keeps all short-term rentals illegal, which leaves the city free to chase them down. The proposed local law that did not pass 3-4 would have legalized owner-occupied short-term rentals."

Amber Grant, who voted against the legislation to legalize short-term rentals, stated: "Throughout the entire process of crafting the legislation, I heard a lot from constituents. I also spent time with many of them, listening to their concerns and even touring a short-term rental. I thank everyone who made their voices heard."

So What Happens Now?

If you have seen the movie Evita starring Madonna, then you may recall the song, "Another Suitcase In Another Hall," in which Madonna sings the recurring breakup song, with the emotional line: "So what happens now?" wondering where she is going to go. The song ends with a character in the movie answering in whisper: "Don't ask... anymore..."

So... to be continued.

Here's the final proposed law that was voted on, in case you're interested in what was allowed for short-term rentals, in case it comes up again. Jeff Simms, Beacon beat reporter for The Highlands Current, got his article up about it last week, if you want another recap.


Related Links to Airbnb Legislation in Beacon:

Public Speaks Out About Airbnb Short-Term Rentals to City Council in Public Hearing

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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.

  1. Ban non-owner occupied whole home short-term rentals.
  2. 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.

Latest Changes to Draft Legislation for Airbnb in Beacon, NY (Short-Term Rental)

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The Beacon City Council has made changes to the proposed legislation it is currently considering, to regulate short-term rentals by homeowners, commonly referred to as Airbnb-ing one's home. These changes are being discussed today in a City Council workshop meeting. The topic is #4 on the workshop agenda, which includes a dozen other areas for discussion. You can see all of the changes here at the city's website in red underlines and strike-throughs in the link called "Short Term Rentals LL."

The city has received a lot of public feedback about short-term rentals and Airbnb spaces in Beacon. The topic was first discussed in 2014, and with the city's skyrocketing popularity, addressing lodging space has only become more urgent. Since the City Council began to revisit potential short-term rental legislation, the following major changes have appeared in the public draft of the proposed city law. It would be the first of its kind for Beacon, and will be discussed at tonight's City Council workshop.

  • Language was removed from the overall introduction of the law that implied that short-term rentals in and of themselves cause bad behavior and disruption to neighborhoods at large.
  • "Non-owner" specification added to the determination that short-term rentals are inconsistent with the use of a residence for residential dwelling purposes.
  • Campers, garages, sheds, and other structures not approved for residential use - temporary or permanent - remain un-rentable in short-term residential situations.
    Editor's note: Just as an FYI, businesses that rent campers on their property, such as Kate's Lazy Meadow in the Catskills do exist, and require their own sets of business and insurance filings.
  • "Owner" has been more refined to exclude "entity corporation, limited-liability company, partnership," in addition to other forms of entities like a trust, or guardian of an estate.
  • Spaces available as rent-able have been more defined.
  • Requirements of the owner to show where the house has been advertised have been reduced.
  • Owner-occupancy remains the required status, which means that people would not be able to rent out a second or third home they owned on a short-term basis. The home would need to be the primary residence of the owner.
  • Weddings, concerts and other commercial uses of a property would remain unlawful for short-term rental.
  • The 100 days per year maximum amount of rental days has been removed. Nearly everyone who spoke at the public hearing for short-term rentals was opposed to that maximum. At that meeting, Council Member John Rembert voiced a request to "revisit the 100-day" maximum.
  • Permits would be required once the law is signed, and those who already rent out would have "45 days to file an application to obtain a short-term rental permit and 90 days to receive such short- term rental permit before any violations are issued" by the Building Department, unless the Building Department gets delayed.

The entire proposed law, called "Short Term Rentals LL," is here for you to read." The document at the link includes more changes not highlighted here.

RELATED ARTICLES

Airbnb Paid Over $220K in Taxes to Dutchess County in 2017

 Photo Credit: Screenshot from Airbnb listings, A Little Beacon Blog.

Photo Credit: Screenshot from Airbnb listings, A Little Beacon Blog.

As the City of Beacon considers legislation for short-term rentals in residential houses, everyone involved is looking at their finances. During a public hearing for the legislation, homeowners who rent their homes out on a per-night, short-term basis, came out to speak in favor of continuing to allow short-term rentals in their homes. Many of the homeowners discussed financial implications they would face if Beacon legislated against short-term rentals or limited the amount of nightly rentals to 100 per year per house (the City Council has since scratched out that maximum from the draft legislation currently being discussed at City Council's Workshop meeting on 4/30/18), or imposing a New York State fire code law for Bed and Breakfasts that requires a sprinkler system or special windows installed in the home.

Other Areas of Economy Impacted by Airbnb

A Beacon resident and Airbnb user, Eileen O'Hare, shed light on another economic area that is impacted by Airbnb rentals, and that is the service industry. According to Eileen's presentation at the public hearing, Airbnb recommends for homeowners to pay for house cleaning and lawn care in order to attract good and consistent bookings. She then posed this question to the City Council at that meeting: "I pay my cleaning lady $25 per hour. What do you pay yours?"

Tax Revenue Going to Dutchess County Generated by Airbnb Bookings

People who make money from Airbnb bookings, like house cleaners, also attended the meeting to request that the short-term rentals be allowed to continue. This got us to thinking about the wider economic impact of short-term rentals on the area, and so we reached out to Dutchess County Legislator Nick Page to get some answers about any revenue generated by the Bed Tax. That tax, as well as sales tax, goes straight to Dutchess County and does not directly get paid to the City of Beacon. Here are some economic statistics derived from tax revenue raised for Dutchess County through Airbnb short-term bookings, according to Nick's understanding, from conversations with the Dutchess County Department of Finance:

  • Airbnb paid a total of $221,918 of the 4% Bed Tax to Dutchess County for 2017. 
  • Dutchess County began collecting the 4% Bed Tax from hosts using the Airbnb platform on March 1, 2017. 
  • The payments to the county are not broken down by municipality (i.e. city, town, or village) and the county does not have access to the host addresses from Airbnb.
  • Airbnb remits one payment to the county by the 20th of each month for the preceding month's activity.
  • Dutchess County is about to begin tracking other short-term rental sites as well. Currently, Dutchess County only collects from Airbnb.

The discussion continues, as the City Council meets tonight to go over the latest changes to the draft legislation based on feedback from the community. On the public agenda for tonight, this topic is filed under "Short-Term Rentals" and is currently #4 out of 12 topics to discuss. Bring your coffee.

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Legislation on the Table (not the kitchen table) for Airbnb Short-Term Rental Limits

 Pictured here is the City Attorney Nicholas Ward-Willis (at right), the Mayor Randy Casale (at center) and the City Administrator Anthony Ruggiero (at left).  Photo Credit: Screenshot of the Workshop meeting. Video produced by Peter Skorewicz

Pictured here is the City Attorney Nicholas Ward-Willis (at right), the Mayor Randy Casale (at center) and the City Administrator Anthony Ruggiero (at left).
Photo Credit: Screenshot of the Workshop meeting. Video produced by Peter Skorewicz

Beacon has stepped up to the plate once again to consider creating legislation for short-term rentals in people's homes, also known as "home sharing," or "Airbnb-ing". Mayor Randy Casale has cited emails he has received from citizens who are opposed to short-term rentals in different capacities. Beacon considered legislating this in 2014 and created draft legislation in 2015, but never finalized it. Click here for a background of this Airbnb issue and why it is being discussed now.

In January and February of 2018, Beacon discussed short-term rentals at a City Council meeting, and held a Workshop discussion on the subject in February. In April, members of the public were invited to voice their opinion at a Public Hearing, at which over 20 people spoke favorably about their experience with short-term rental via Airbnb. They also expressed their reactions to the proposed restrictions in the proposed new law put together in 2018.

A handful of people showed up to speak out against short-term rentals, and voiced their desire for rules to be enforced - even though no local law exists yet in Beacon to be enforced. The law on the table right now is new. There are zoning laws at the New York state level, which include fire safety requirements such as installing sprinkler systems or breakaway windows. Those requirements can be a financial burden to homeowners, who also rent out their homes to earn extra income to keep up with their mortgage or rent payments.

Those in opposition of no regulation at all included a citizen, Elaine Ciaccio, who submitted a petition she started which had 70 signatures on it asking to "1. Ban non-owner occupied whole home short-term rentals and 2. Require registration and establish regulations that maintain the zoned character of our residential neighborhoods." Airbnb has submitted their written response to Beacon's legislation, which was to argue against many of the proposed restrictions. Neither the petition or Airbnb's testimony were read aloud at the Public Hearing, but around 30 people voiced their opinions, a majority of whom were homeowner/landlords of short-term rentals who were in favor of short-term rentals, and in favor of the least amount of regulation - if at all.

Legislation on the Table Now

LEGAL NOTE: Please know: this summation does not constitute as the draft legal document. You can find that legal document right here at this link. The information has been summarized so that you can see the points quickly. You should read the draft legislation yourself if this area of legislation concerns you. The people of a municipality do not have a lawyer representing them, as a city hires an attorney to represent itself. Council members may not necessarily be lawyers or specialized in a type of law being legislated. As a citizen, homework is involved.

Here is a summary of the law that the City Attorney has drafted as of April 4, 2018. Please see the actual draft of the law at the City of Beacon's website in their PDF here at this link. This draft is an edited version that the attorney made prior to the Public Hearing on April 2, 2018, and includes "track changes," which means that you can see what was originally proposed or how something was worded, and then was revised based on feedback.

Men's Rights

Before we begin, it is noted that women were not always included in the legislation wording. Women and men have since been written into the draft with both pronouns, "his or her." In prior draft laws, the male pronoun has been used, such as "his property." Being that married women used to not be able to own property at all in the United States prior to the 1830s, with different states coming on board with allowing women to own property through the 1840s '50s, and so on until the late 1800s (see Wikipedia for all the details).

In this latest April 4th draft, one possible loophole remains for women in this line item: "A short-term rental permit has been issued and the owner fails to continue to occupy the premises on a continuous basis as his primary residence; or..."

Additionally, the proposed legislation assumes that the Building Inspector, who is currently a man, will always be a man. The legislative wording reads as this: "The applicant shall be given an opportunity to present evidence why such denial of application, or such suspension or revocation of the license, shall be modified or withdrawn. The Building Inspector or his designated agent may also present evidence."

Who is an Owner?

According to the draft legislation, an owner would be defined as: "An individual or group of individuals who are in possession of and have a fee interest in real property. The term 'owner' shall not include entity corporation, limited-liability company, partnership, association, a trustee, receiver or guardian of an estate, or mortgagee, lien holder, or other business entity."

Owner Occupied would be defined as: "A one-family or two-family house or multiple dwelling building used by the owner as his or her or their domicile or principal residence."

The short-term rental space would be defined as: "An entire dwelling unit, or a room or group of rooms or other living or sleeping space, made available to rent, lease or otherwise assigned for a tenancy of less than 30 consecutive days. The term “short-term rental” does not include dormitories, hotel or motel rooms, bed and breakfast inns or lodging houses, as permitted and regulated by the City of Beacon Zoning Ordinance."

Permit would be required, would last for 2 years, and would be able to be renewed.

The application of the permit would be submitted to the Building Department. Several pieces of information would be required, including a notarized certificate from all property owners.

A broad requirement of the City requiring anything: The proposed law also has a line that broadly gives the City the ability to require information not defined in the legislation, with this wording: “Such other information as the City may require.” When two parties are negotiating a contract, statements like this are inserted by a party who wants to cover a large ground of protection. It can be argued that it is up to the other party to accept that or negotiate that statement out of the document.

Permits may be revoked if specified conditions occur, such as an owner not occupying the premises as the owner’s primary residence, or if the property “creates a hazard or public nuisance or other condition which negatively impacts the use and/or enjoyment of surrounding properties, or threatens the peace and good order, or quality of life in the surrounding community.”

Violation fines could be up to $500 per offense. “Any owner who fails to obtain the permit required herein, or otherwise violates any provision of this section, shall be guilty of an offense which shall be punishable by a fine of not more than $500 per offense.”

Attics and cellars would not be allowed to be rented “unless it meets the requirements of the International Fire, Residential and Building Codes or successor law.”

Short-term rentals could be in any zone of the city, and would not be dependent upon the zoning type your house or apartment was in.

Advertised locations: The owner would have to show where they are advertising the listing.

Proof of rental bookings required. The number of days rented would have to be printed out from home-sharing listing websites and shown to the Building Inspector when the property owner(s) want to renew the permit.

Inspection by the Building Department would be required at the time of initial application, and any permit renewal.

Primary residences only are eligible. Owners of short-term rental properties would only be able to rent out that property that they call their primary residence. If it is not their primary residence, they cannot rent out. If they have a second home or house or apartment in Beacon, an owner could not rent it out as a short-term rental.

Campers, sheds, vehicles parked on property, tents, recreation rooms, garages, temporary structures, or other things could not be rented out from the homeowner's property.

Wedding, concerts or other commercial situations would not be able to be rented.

100-day rental limitation has been scratched out. In last month’s draft, there was a proposed limit of 100 days rented per calendar year. Comments from the public indicated this would impact their income, and in some cases, prevent them from making their own mortgage or property tax payments. In the proposed law, there is a strikethrough line through the verbiage, indicating that it is off the table as a restriction.

Timing to get permits: If approved, “This local law shall take effect immediately upon filing with the Office of the Secretary of State. Any short-term rental in existence prior to adoption of this local law shall have 45 days to file an application to obtain a short-term rental permit and 90 days to receive such short-term rental permit before any violations are issued, unless a delay is caused by Building Department in not issuing said permit.”

General Tone of the Legislation is Assumptive of Rowdiness - But Airbnb-ers Have Attracted Quiet Renters

In this proposed law language, the City's position takes an approach that defends the citizens, and one that assumes that renters are likely to be disruptive. Setting the stage for the legislation, the following is written into the introduction of the proposed law: "There is a greater tendency for Short-Term renters to fail to conduct themselves during their occupancy in a manner that respects neighbors and the community as would persons with longer standing relationships to their neighbors. In addition, studies have shown that short-term rentals are linked to increases in rent and housing costs because rental units are taken off the market and used as short-term rentals."

Studies, or supporting documentation, mentioned in this statement have not yet been provided or presented to the public for the creation of this law.

During the Public Hearing, all of the people in favor of short-term rentals credited Airbnb itself with creating a good-neighbor environment thanks to Airbnb's background checking and self-governing rules that publicly grade short-term rentals, as well as factor in private feedback. Said a citizen and homeowner landlord, Dennis Mendo, "From renting out an Airbnb for the last 3 years, I have not had one complaint. Not one thing broken. And I live in a cul-de-sac."

During the Public Hearing, it was revealed that people who are renters through Airbhb have to:

  1. Pass background checks from Airbnb.
  2. Can be denied a booking by homeowner short-term rental landlords.

Jessica, a woman who spoke at the public hearing and has a legal long-term rental on the property, also rents a part of the home as a short-term rental. She commented about the neighbor safety in place created by Airbnb's rental marketplace, stating: "I know more about my Airbnb guests than I do about my own tenant."

She went on to explain: "Guests have to go through a three-step verification process that the hosts sets the limits for, that ensures that [the guests] are who they say they are… 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."

Another attendee of the Public Hearing, Eva, rents her family's home on a short-term basis, and had this to say about her selection process about who books: "We do not accept every booking. We only accept [guests] who are willing to follow our rules. And this is why we only have 10 guests so far since 2017."

The next discussion of short-term rentals is on Monday, April 9, 2018. This will be a Workshop, where the City Council discusses the points it is considering. The workshop is open to the public to watch, but not to participate in. The next opportunity for the public to comment would be during the Miscellaneous Comment period of City Council meetings in general, which usually happen the following Monday.

For those who like auto-updates via RSS, A Little Beacon Blog has been re-publishing Agendas and Videos in our "Easy Access" City Government section of this website. There, you can easily find videos posted with each meeting, and links to the accompanying Agenda items, which can include useful information like drafts of laws, letters of testimony, maps, and more.

Please see the actual proposed draft legislation for this law on the city's website. You can find it here at this link. It is called "LL Short Term Rental with changes."

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Beacon Considers Airbnb Short-Term Rental Legislation - Here Are (Some Of The) Issues Being Considered

 Pictured here is Beacon's Building Inspector, Timothy Dexter, speaking to the City Council during a Workshop meeting of proposed legislation for short-term rentals, often listed on websites like Airbnb.  Photo Credit: Screenshot of the Workshop meeting. Video produced by Peter Skorewicz.

Pictured here is Beacon's Building Inspector, Timothy Dexter, speaking to the City Council during a Workshop meeting of proposed legislation for short-term rentals, often listed on websites like Airbnb.
Photo Credit: Screenshot of the Workshop meeting. Video produced by Peter Skorewicz.

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!

Why Now?

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.

    2/13/2018 Workshop

    1/29/2018 Regular City Council Meeting

    Highlands Current article by Jeff Simms

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