Airbnb Bookings Jump 75 Percent in Philipstown

But home rental boom raises legal questions

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

As tourism has surged in Philipstown, so has one form of tourist accommodation: Airbnb, the booking site that lets homeowners turn their residences into bed-and-breakfasts — without the breakfast.

According to data provided by Airbnb, the number of annual bookings in Philipstown jumped nearly 75 percent from July 2016 to July 2017, to 6,800 from 3,900. That includes more than 4,000 bookings in the 10516 ZIP code, which includes Cold Spring, Nelsonville and part of Philipstown, an increase of 90 percent, and 2,800 bookings in Garrison, a 56 percent jump.

The number of Airbnb hosts also grew. From July 2016 to July 2017 there was a 37 percent increase in the number of active hosts in the 10516 ZIP code, and a 17 percent increase in Garrison. In the villages of Cold Spring and Nelsonville, about 35 percent of hosts rent more than 10 times per year; in Garrison it’s about 50 percent.

Airbnb tells prospective hosts they can earn $650 a week in Philipstown. Yet turning a property into an Airbnb can bring zoning and tax questions as well as income. In addition, homes that are turned into daily or weekly rentals do not always sit well with neighbors.

Need a room?

A recent search showed about 25 listings in Cold Spring and Nelsonville, and another 25 or so in Garrison. Local hosts offer a wide variety of homes and rooms, from basic beds to expensive and expansive estates.

The Airbnb site does not provide addresses but does pinpoint the general location of the property on a map. Listings include:

  • A room in a home off Main Street in Cold Spring for $120 per night, a room at an animal shelter in North Highlands for $53, and a room with kitchenette at Lake Valhalla for $95;
  • Rooms in Garrison for $80 per night off Old Albany Post Road, $125 off Travis Corners Road and $140 across from Boscobel;
  • Apartments in Cold Spring for $140 to $165 per night;
  • A tent in a backyard just outside Cold Spring for $75 per night, or a 1984 Airstream in the woods off Half Moon Ridge for $180;
  • Houses in Cold Spring, Garrison, North Highlands and Lake Valhalla for $234 to $400 nightly;
  • A “rustic farmhouse” near Jaycox Road area for $973 per night;
  • A Garrison home with a swimming pool for $550; another with a gym and sauna for $763.
  • A Garrison home designed by I.M. Pei for $1,000 per night, a “country estate” in Cold Spring for $1,500, and a four-bedroom home on 38 acres near Travis Corners Road for $1,650 a night.

Richard Shea, the Philipstown town supervisor, and his wife, Karen, own a home at 57 Morris Ave., in Cold Spring, that operates as an Airbnb. They did not respond to a request for comment.

Steve Voloto, a Cold Spring Village trustee, and his wife own a home at 9 Constitution Drive in Cold Spring with an attached annex that he said they have rented through Airbnb for more than a year.

A selection of homes available for rent on Airbnb, clockwise from top left: Chestnut Street; a home owned by Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea; Church Street; behind Foodtown; Nelsonville; an apartment apparently offered by Cold Spring Trustee Steve Voloto; an Airstream in Philipstown; the Bluehaus on Market Street; Whitehill Place; and a Cold Spring estate for $1,500 a night

Philipstown has three bed-and-breakfasts — the Pig Hill Inn and Hudson House Inn, both on Main Street in Cold Spring, and the Bird & Bottle Inn off Route 9 in Garrison — and Putnam County has motels, but no hotels. In her State of the County address in March, Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell endorsed Airbnb, saying that “until we get a hotel, we need Airbnb so that Putnam County can go from a day-cation to a stay-cation destination.”

What About Beacon?

In a forthcoming article, The Current will look at the growth and legality of Airbnb rentals in Beacon, where listings jumped 62 percent and the number of hosts increased by 40 percent from July 2016 to July 2017.

Philipstown’s most recent comprehensive plan, completed in 2006, called for more accommodations to attract tourists, but said they should be “built to a scale and esthetic appropriate to the town, such as bed-and-breakfasts and small inns.”

Similarly, Cold Spring’s comprehensive plan, from 2012, encouraged “an increase in the number of overnight accommodations” by permitting bed-and-breakfasts throughout the village.” It likewise proposed the creation of a management and marketing program much like what Airbnb provides.

Guests make and pay for bookings through the Airbnb website; the service, founded in 2008, takes 3 percent of the price as its fee. After arrangements are finalized, guests receive the home’s address. Unlike bed-and-breakfasts, Airbnb establishments typically do not provide meals.

Code facts: Cold Spring

Cold Spring’s code considers a bed-and-breakfast to be a “tourist home,” defined as “a dwelling in which overnight accommodations, consisting of not more than three rooms for such purpose, are provided or offered for transient guests for compensation.” It does not mention breakfast.

Before opening a tourist home in a residential district, the code states that property owners must pay $500 and apply for a special-use permit (valid for one year but renewable); provide plans for review by the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Planning Board; undergo a public hearing; and supply one parking place for each guest room. It also restricts tourist homes in residential districts to parcels located along state highways, which in Cold Spring means Route 9D and Route 301.

Listings in Cold Spring during a recent search

The restrictions on tourist homes in the business district are less stringent.

Despite the proliferation of Airbnb rentals, Cold Spring Village Clerk Jeff Vidakovich said the village has received no applications for tourist homes since late 2015, aside from one later withdrawn.

In 2016, the Cold Spring Code Update Committee proposed that the village redefine “tourist home” as “overnight accommodation,” require that the owner live on the premises; ban renting out any more than three rooms; forbid separate cooking facilities; allow them on streets other than state roads; and require fire inspections.

“Although the current village code does not mention Airbnb, properties that are marketed on Airbnb are equivalent to tourist homes,” said Trustee Marie Early. “These properties should conform to the current code.” If they fail to do so, she said, it raises the question: What does the village do about it?

“The village is not actively doing anything or attempting to find out where they are, not doing anything to confront the owners,” she said. But when a complaint is received, Greg Wunner, the building inspector for Cold Spring and Philipstown, investigates, she said. Wunner did not respond to requests for comment.

Airbnb last year added a feature that allows neighbors of Airbnb rentals to complain directly to the company (airbnb.com/neighbors). Categories include noise, parking/trash, general concerns and personal safety.

Trustee Voloto said he does not believe that the Cold Spring law on tourist homes covers Airbnb.

“It’s a different animal than what’s on the books,” he said. However, he explained, “I’d be for some type of a charge” or village permit process for Airbnb establishments. Likewise, he proposed that rental structures should meet basic standards and not consist of a shed on a lot somewhere, and “having it be owner-occupied is a must.”

At the very least, he suggested, Cold Spring should require that Airbnb owners live nearby in the village. He also expressed concerns that too many uncontrolled rental operations could burden the village infrastructure.

Nelsonville

Nelsonville’s village code allows “the letting of rooms” to up to two guests at a time, as long as the owner lives in the house. It prohibits cooking facilities in guest rooms, although an owner can offer breakfast or other “board” and allow guest access to the home’s kitchen.

At least three Nelsonville homeowners provide Airbnb rentals for several guests at a time. One, with two bedrooms, can accommodate five guests, for $220 a night; a second accommodates six guests, in three bedrooms, for $350 a night; and the third, with four bedrooms, accommodates up to eight guests, for $550 a night.

Philipstown

Philipstown’s zoning code, last updated in 2011, allows bed-and-breakfasts nearly everywhere, with Planning Board approval. It defines a bed-and-breakfast as “a dwelling in which overnight accommodations not exceeding five bedrooms and breakfast are provided for transient guests for compensation.”

Listings in Garrison during a recent search

However, the town code also provides for “lodging facilities,” which it defines as hotels, motels, inns, or any “other establishment providing sleeping accommodations for transient guests, with or without a dining room or restaurant, excluding bed-and-breakfast establishments.” It allows lodging facilities only in districts designated as Hamlet Mixed-Use (such as Garrison’s Landing) and Highway Commercial (Route 9 corridor), as well as Institutional Conservation (historical or open spaces) and Hamlet Residential (such as Continental Village) with special-use permits.

A review of Planning Board records from mid-2011 through July 2017 found no mention of applications for lodging facility approvals or permits.

Early said that in addition to posing legal questions, opening a tourist home without approval deprives a municipality of income from permits and, unless the host collects sales tax from guests, deprives the state and Putnam County of revenue. That means, she said, that civic projects sales tax could fund must rely on  other sources, like property taxes.

Local officials

Andrew Kalloch, a lawyer with Airbnb, said the company advises its hosts “of the need to comply with local laws.” Moreover, he said, “Airbnb supports nuanced regulations and is eager to work with communities across New York state to craft common-sense policies that foster responsible home-sharing.”

Kalloch said Airbnb supports legislation in Albany to “allow Airbnb to collect sales and lodging taxes on behalf of our Empire State community,” as it does in Vermont, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

Airbnb’s site provides a host’s reference guide to local laws, organized by state and county. It collects a 4 percent hotel, or room, tax for hosts in Dutchess County but not Putnam, which does not have one. Asked about this by the Journal News in 2015, Odell said, “How do you have a hotel tax when you don’t even have a hotel?” She earlier vetoed a bill to ask the state to allow Putnam to impose a room tax because she said it would discourage hotels from building in the county.

18 Responses to "Airbnb Bookings Jump 75 Percent in Philipstown"

  1. Thomas A. Nastasi Sr.   August 18, 2017 at 9:53 am

    Sounds sketchy to me. There are enough creepy people in this town during the summer without encouraging people to stay in houses not deemed as real bed-and-breakfast businesses. Over the 4th of July week someone stole my grandson’s new stroller right off our porch. I live on the southern end of Market Street and all day, every day in the summer I watch hundreds of strangers walk by. Some are polite and some are arrogant and demand information about where to find the main village, where to find food and drinks.

    This summer the volume of foot traffic has doubled. I cannot sit on my front porch without being grilled on where this is or where that is, how do I get to Breakneck,is there taxis around? According to this article, the names I see kind of surprise me. Do they need the money that bad? I need money but I’ll be damned if I will allow a stranger to stay in my house whether I’m home or not.

    Another incident not too long ago: I was startled when I saw someone peeking through my window. I called the police and the man was arrested by New Street not because he was casing the street out, but because he was wanted in Yonkers for two robberies on homes.

    I guess my concerns are twofold. First, who are you letting stay at your house and is this practice of subrenting a room legal. Let’s be real, the more people that come to Cold Spring and the possible trail from the train station to Breakneck, the likelihood of more crimes will follow.

    Reply
  2. Michael Bowman   August 18, 2017 at 10:45 am

    I want to know whether Airbnb does any sort of background check on its members. What is stopping a convicted felon or child predator from renting one of these properties near Haldane or any of our homes?

    The local municipalities are once again playing catch-up to changes in technology.

    Reply
    • mm
      Site Editor   August 18, 2017 at 10:53 am

      Airbnb says it does basic background checks of criminal records and sex-offender lists but acknowledges its limitations.

      Reply
      • Michael Bowman   August 18, 2017 at 11:01 am

        Thank you for the link. That is a rather long list of limitations, including the fact it only checks U.S. databases, and is dependent on the user submitting accurate information. So someone could give false information, leave out an identifying middle initial, etc.

        Reply
  3. Thomas A. Nastasi Sr.   August 18, 2017 at 11:19 am

    Safe-haven homes?

    Reply
  4. Maria Szulc   August 18, 2017 at 8:59 pm

    That is a solid piece of journalism!

    Reply
  5. Judith K. Rose   August 20, 2017 at 7:05 am

    When we all were supporting more “in-Village” accommodation options as part of the comprehensive plan, Airbnb was not considered an option. We had hoped to expand the code to allow for more legitimate bed and breakfasts that would enhance the Village’s desirability for its residents and guests.

    Uncontrolled, Airbnbs can do quite the opposite, especially the ones in which an entire house is rented to a group or large family. Guests park everywhere, not even legally sometimes, and can be very noisy into the night.

    There is also a rising concern that smaller homes and apartments will used full-time as short term rentals, removing needed lower-cost housing from the market, which deprives newcomers or the next generation from getting a foothold here.

    A good piece of journalism. Thanks for highlighting this issue.

    Reply
  6. Patty Villanova   August 21, 2017 at 12:35 pm

    What is the difference between a “legitimate” bed and breakfast and Airbnb besides taxation?

    Reply
  7. Floyd Norris   August 21, 2017 at 11:05 pm

    The varied local and state laws affecting lodging were written by people who did not contemplate something like Airbnb, and they fit imperfectly around such an enterprise.

    The Cold Spring tourist-home rule, calling for a $500 fee and a public hearing before such a home can go into business, may make sense for a business that plans to operate every night.

    But those who wrote the rule certainly were not thinking of someone who occasionally rents out a room or a home.

    There is no doubt I can legally invite a friend to stay at my home, whether or not I am there, for a few nights. Should that become illegal if the friend offers to help out with my expenses? Should different rules apply if I rent out the place regularly? How often is too often?

    If I own a home and do not live in it, or live in it only seasonally or occasionally, no one doubts I may rent it out on a monthly basis. Should I be able to rent it on a weekly basis? Daily?

    New technologies have raised issues in many areas other than this. Is it an illegal search if the police use infrared to identify homes where marijuana is being grown? Smartphone apps make Uber possible, with drivers deciding when, or if, they will accept fares, rather than working for an established car service or taxi company. To what extent do existing rules apply?

    Governments need to think about how, if at all, they want to regulate an enterprise such as Airbnb. Interpreting old rules to make them cover Airbnb may be possible, but it may not be wise.

    Reply
  8. Stephen Bogardus   August 22, 2017 at 12:14 am

    I have no argument with Air B&B per say but they should never be allowed in R1 single family zoning. It’s a commercial enterprise and belongs only in a commercial zone.

    Reply
  9. Richard Shea   August 22, 2017 at 10:22 am

    Cold Spring is a tourist town. That is a fact. Tourism drives our local economy. The overwhelming majority of people who come to visit our beautiful village are here to take a walk, visit the shops and have a meal. This is commerce and that means money for local businesses. They are not here to commit crimes. Criminality does exist, but I sincerely doubt that criminals are availing themselves to local rentals to serve as a base for their activities.

    I realize that some people wish that the visitors would just go away. That is not going to happen. If there are not places to stay the likelihood of someone having dinner in a restaurant decreases greatly. Every family that has stayed at our house has been wonderful; most of them here as parents of West Point Cadets. We have had the opportunity to meet them and hear about their experiences. We also direct them to the many fine local businesses that line our Main Street. Money for local business, great families visiting from around the world and local property owners putting a few dollars in their pockets to make ends meet; sounds pretty good to me. I didn’t think last week was a slow news week but apparently this hard charging in-depth coverage of my home was more important that the murderous Nazis occupying Charlottesville, Virginia.

    Reply
    • Patty Villanova   August 22, 2017 at 11:25 am

      Supervisor Shea brings up a lot of great points about the Airbnb debate no doubt because he has “walked in the shoes” of his friends and neighbors who are also trying to make a little extra money while serving the needs of the tourists who fuel our local economy.

      I hope that Mr. Shea and any other government officials who have taxing authority will take all this into consideration when they ultimately decide how to regulate Airbnb rentals. Not that I am in favor of such regulation, because I think the free market, capitalist system is working quite well. But knowing the way government works, it seems inevitable that the powers that be will want their “share” of the take.

      Reply
      • Thomas A. Nastasi Sr.   August 22, 2017 at 2:16 pm

        It’s called taxes.

        Reply
    • mm
      Site Editor   August 22, 2017 at 11:45 am

      Richard Shea is the elected supervisor of the town of Philipstown. Steve Voloto is an elected board member in the Village of Cold Spring. In these positions, they oversee codes that may or may not regulate Airbnb rentals. I found that relevant, which is why both were identified as active Airbnb hosts. Both apparently believe otherwise. I think Liz Armstrong did a fantastic job explaining the issue for readers. We had hoped to ask the supervisor if he felt that the laws on the books in Philipstown applied to Airbnb rentals, including his own, and he declined to address the matter. Mr. Voloto did respond with his views in a later interview and those comments have been added to the story.

      Chip Rowe
      Managing Editor

      Reply
  10. Thomas A. Nastasi Sr.   August 22, 2017 at 11:43 am

    Bottom line, it’s all about the all mighty dollar, and if you already have dollars it would be nice too rent out one of your homes for visitors staying to have fun in our once upon a time murderous KKK town. And if you don’t live in the area of the crazies who forget too use sidewalks while walking in front of traffic and do U-turns on Main Street in full view of Cold Spring’s finest, then you have no clue and really no say how bad it is getting to drive or walk the 5 to 10 minutes it takes to go from the river to the red light.

    Visitors who come to our little slice of heaven leave nothing but garbage and theft in their wake, not to mention in the wooded areas of hiking. You have to watch where you walk or you will most likely step on a pile of human crap. Let me also say the graffiti on the rocks are nice touch of so-called art. Plastic water bottles strewn in every direction will be there for hundreds of years. The local food businesses are geared pricewise for the tourists — the only place for towners to eat for a reasonable price is at the Nelsonville Deli.

    Not here to commit crimes! A lot of crimes start with scoping out your target. Where I live I see this a lot. So don’t think the people who visit our beautiful village are here to eat, walk and visit shops. Where there are a large population of people, crime will follow. Have your Airbnb, give it time — something will go bad.

    One more thing, you better tell the almighty powerful IRS about the side money that is being made. The cat is out of the bag.

    P.S. and FYI: the murderous Nazis are all ready here.

    Reply
  11. Frank Haggerty   August 22, 2017 at 9:31 pm

    A difficult but necessary conversation this is. The subject is being discussed and debated in its various aspects in many, many locales – it’s hardly unique to Philipstown.

    Reply
  12. Sean Conway   August 23, 2017 at 5:20 pm

    I’ve spent 30+ years going to Cape Cod every summer and we’ve always rented directly from a private owner. This isn’t a new concept — the only difference is that Airbnb makes it much more accessible for hosts and guest to supplement their incomes and subsidize their vacations.

    It is clear that we need more hotel rooms, and it is clear that space is at a premium, but this provides the only stopgap for the time being. If 150 people come to a wedding at Boscobel, where do we expect them to stay? Is it worth losing visitors to Fishkill or Beacon? I particularly agree with Supervisor Shea’s assessment of how it affects our restaurants’ dinner service. Or even prevents new ventures from opening.

    Ultimately, absentee hosts are no more dangerous than absentee landlords. It is incumbent upon the property owner to police their guests, paying or otherwise, and maintain order. But it is also incumbent upon their neighbors to complain, directly to them, if there is anything amiss with short-term lodgers, just as they would with long-term renters. Every Airbnb I’ve stayed in has its own “House Rules” and a reasonable noise curfew is certainly one of them. As for parking — laws are laws, whether you’re a resident or a tourist. If someone is parked illegally, report it and have the car towed.

    As for fees/taxes attached to short-term rentals, let’s put them directly into a dedicated fund to address tourism. Send it to the 4th of July Committee or the Film Society, or get some more recycling bins on Main Street. Everyone wins. There are plenty of towns around the Hudson Valley where nobody wants to go. Let’s not be one of them.

    Reply
  13. Joanne Kenna   August 28, 2017 at 2:14 pm

    Why not send out applications to all Airbnbs that are listed in our area with an invoice for the $500 fee? This would surely boost revenues for our area and we could apply some of this money to much needed infrastructure costs.

    Reply

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