Many residents oppose proposed regulations
By Jeff Simms
A standing-room-only crowd, many of them Airbnb hosts, packed City Hall in Beacon on Monday (April 2) as the City Council sought input on a proposed law to regulate short-term rentals. Ultimately, however, it scratched a vote scheduled for the same night, opting instead to keep the conversation going at an upcoming workshop.
The many people who argued to leave well enough alone appeared to surprise the council.
“I assumed this discussion would be fairly straightforward,” Council Member George Mansfield said afterward. “The arguments were relatively clear in my mind. I was surprised to see the subtlety of everyone’s different experiences.”
Much of the discussion about regulating short-term rentals such as those arranged on Airbnb.com and similar sites has focused on whether residents should be permitted to rent out part or all of an apartment or home that isn’t their primary residence.
Residents expressed concern that permitting short-term rentals without some restrictions would amount to allowing hotels in residential neighborhoods, with their accompanying traffic and noise. Elaine Ciaccio presented the council with a petition signed by 70 people making that point.
The council has leaned toward prohibiting non-owner-occupied short-term rentals, but on Monday it heard a variety of opinions.
“I consider it a public service,” said Laeri Nast, the owner of Play on Main Street, who leases a second house that he purchased for rentals and part-time personal use. The home is “a dog-friendly place; it’s a fenced yard. People love it. You can’t do that in any other place.”
Many other speakers also pointed out the unique experiences Airbnb and other rental services provide that traditional lodging does not.
In addition, there has been confusion about what is and isn’t legal. While Beacon’s zoning permits property owners to lease their homes, it doesn’t allow for rentals of 30 days or fewer, City Attorney Nick Ward-Willis said.
Who Rented, Who Stayed
Active hosts: 110
Number of guests (2017): 9,100
Typical host earned $8,800 renting four nights per month
Percentage of hosts who are female: 70
Average age of host: 46
Percentage of hosts age 60 or older: 15
Average stay: 2.1 nights
Average group: 2.3 people
Active hosts: 50
Number of guests (2017): 5,300
Typical host earned $11,700 renting four nights per month
Percentage of hosts who are female: 56
Average age of host: 51
Percentage of hosts age 60 or older: 23
Average stay: 2.4 nights
Average group: 4 people
The proposed law would require hosts to register with the city and have their rental spaces inspected by the Building Department. It would prohibit short-term rentals in apartments or homes that are not occupied by the owner and would cap short-term rentals at 100 nights per year. (According to Airbnb, the typical host in Beacon rents for about 50 nights per year.)
Adding to the complexity are state regulations that require fire sprinklers and other safety measures for newly built dwellings used as “lodging houses.” New York’s laws are not as strict for homes that have been converted to traditional bed-and-breakfasts but still require features, such as marked fire exits, that most homes lack.
Increased scrutiny of short-term rentals has put the city in a position where it must act, Beacon Mayor Randy Casale said.
“It’s not legal to have a short-term rental” in Beacon, he said, “so we either have to make a law to make them legal or we have to enforce the law. I’m not going to be sitting at the head of the city not enforcing something that’s illegal now.”
Many of the speakers on Monday said they would accept some regulation by the city but hoped it wouldn’t be so onerous that it eliminated any incentive to offer short-term rentals. They argued that would not only hurt tourists who rent rooms but the local businesses where they spend money. According to Airbnb, more than 9,000 people rented rooms in Beacon through the service in 2017.
Visitors “need a place to stay right here in Beacon,” Dennis Swindell, an Airbnb host, told the council. “We push them to [visit] the city and that’s where they spend their dollars, going up and down Main Street.”
Other residents said the income from rentals allows them to stay in Beacon despite rising costs. Renting on Airbnb for the last three years “provided an income that allows us to live and work in Beacon and not have to commute,” said Jessica Jelliffe. “This is extremely important to us as we are fully committed to being active participants in this great city that we love.”
Andrew Kalloch, an Airbnb representative who specializes in public policy, submitted comments opposing the law and suggesting that Airbnb hosts should not be held to the same building code standards as full-time commercial establishments such as bed-and-breakfasts.