Beacon Delays Vote on Airbnb

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.

Seth Porges, a writer and Airbnb host, argued that short-term rentals bring tourists to Beacon who boost the local economy. (Photo by J. Simms)

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

Beacon

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

Cold Spring

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

Source: Airbnb

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.”

A sampling of Beacon properties for rent through Airbnb.

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.

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7 Responses to "Beacon Delays Vote on Airbnb"

  1. Rosemary Merhige   April 6, 2018 at 11:10 am

    As many in our community know, no matter how much you plan and save, maintaining your quality of life after retirement is never a sure thing. The reality for many retirees is that they must sell their homes and leave behind the communities that they love, in pursuit of affordability on a fixed budget.

    After finally achieving our dream of living in Beacon, that was not something my husband and I were going to do. We love this town — my husband was born in Beacon and spent many a summer here as a child, and later as an adult with myself and our children.

    We now live on the same property that he has known for almost all of his life, and near our married daughters and their families, who relocated to Beacon to live near us. To make ends meet in our dream home, we realized we would have to get a little creative.

    Home sharing did the trick. It has been the answer to our question of how we could stay in Beacon while enjoying retirement, and at the same time, something happened that we never expected — we’ve had a lot of fun. Though we host our guests for only a few days out of the month, I love showing people from around the world all that our city and the Hudson Valley has to offer. And I know our stores, galleries and restaurants have appreciated the business that this tourism has brought through their doors.

    As the City Council considers regulating Airbnb, I hope this is what they will remember: I am a typical Airbnb host in Beacon. We are longtime residents who respect and give back to our community — and as such, hold public safety needs to the highest priority — but depend on the income boost that home sharing provides.

    For us, we can’t imagine another alternative to balance both retirement and keeping our homes. Please don’t legislate this lifeline away from us.

  2. Judith Kepner Rose
    Judith Kepner Rose   April 6, 2018 at 11:48 am

    Applause for Beacon for tackling the various and assorted issues.

  3. Charlie Symon   April 6, 2018 at 12:56 pm

    Residential single family, means just that a single family. If you want to rent out rooms, buy a motel. This will affect home resale values at some point. We have a few homes that rent out rooms on my street. The issues are added traffic — homes do not support the need for added parking, and two of homes allow cars to park on what used to be a front lawn. Last summer one home had a travel trailer parked on the street, hooked up to the houses electric and probably charged rent (they were there most of the summer).

    There needs to be some controls on this abuse. Also, if the short-term renters cause disturbances in the neighborhood, that should be enough to end the rental use. (We have one house that looks like a boarding house with the police there on occasion). Additionally, if a house is renting rooms, the owner should need to get a variance through the zoning board of appeals, with the adjoining neighbors having a say in the approval.

  4. Ed Fortier   April 6, 2018 at 3:00 pm

    Renting a room in a legitimately owner-occupied home is one thing, but allowing short-term rentals for entire homes in areas zoned for residential use is another. No homeowner has purchased their home with the expectation that random travelers will live next door. Allowing short-term occupancy of entire buildings is a devaluation of adjoining properties and arguably a taking by the municipality. I fail to see how a structure used only for short-term rentals is not a hotel.

    While those fortunate enough to own their homes are concerned about their ability to afford them, what about the renters? Watch how quickly rental tenants are chased from their apartments by landlords. Why charge $1,500 a month for an apt when you can charge $150 per night on Airbnb?

    Beacon’s metamorphosis has been amazing and kudos to all who struggled to make it happen. Airbnb should be limited to only owner-occupied homes.

    • Frank Haggerty   April 6, 2018 at 4:26 pm

      If an owner/renter/resident does not live at, or is not resident at the address in question, it’s not a rental. It’s a business. And thus like any other business/hotel/commercial establishment it belongs in a business district. Otherwise, clearly, there is no such thing as a residentially zoned district, and the zoning law thusly is unenforced, unenforceable and meaningless.

      Next thing there will be factories, taxi stands, breweries, restaurants, car repair shops, movie theaters, concert halls, night clubs and the like (and who knows what else?), in districts zoned for R1 residential use. Either a city’s codes are enforced or they, and potentially the rest of its laws, are ignored, forgotten, and de facto repealed.

  5. Rosemary Merhige   April 16, 2018 at 5:40 am

    Renting an apartment for $1,500 a month versus charging $150 per night for an Airbnb rental is not a fair comparison. Most Airbnb rentals happen on a weekend for usually one night and on occasion two nights, but that is not the norm. Suggesting an Airbnb host is earning $150 per night each month is inaccurate.

  6. Graham Lawlor   May 3, 2018 at 7:07 pm

    Four years ago, when the subject of short-term and home-sharing rentals came before the Beacon City Council, it wisely adopted a wait-and-see attitude Since that time, self-regulating home sharing has thrived and as a result, so has Beacon.

    With a shortage of affordable hospitality accommodations, short-term rentals filled the gap. Last year alone, an estimated $1.87 million was spent by Airbnb guests at Main Street businesses (about 9,000 stays, times an average of $208 spent per stay). And that figure doesn’t include visitors who booked through other sites such as HomeAway and Flipkey.

    Retired homeowners who might have been forced to sell because of higher taxes were able to hang on to their homes. Tourists who would otherwise never have been able to afford Beacon experienced our little city firsthand and raved. It was a win-win for Beacon and its hosting population.

    Now the city is considering rushed legislation which, because of an onerous inspection process, will effectively shut down an estimated 90 percent of short-term rentals. There is no sound rationale for this move, especially since New York State will soon consider legislation (see Senate Bill S7182) to address this thorny issue, including statewide guidelines.

    We respectfully urge the City Council to show the same restraint that it did four years ago and hold off on passing a hastily drafted law which may conflict with state law, invite legal challenges and cause the City unnecessary expense and embarrassment.

    Graham Lawlor, Jessica Dias, Dan Demarti, Jessica Jeliffe, America Campbell, Connie Hall

    The signers are members of a grassroots group called Beacon Hosts.