Beacon May Regulate Short-term Rentals

Council will hold hearing April 2

By Jeff Simms

The Beacon City Council will hold a public hearing on Monday, April 2, to hear feedback on a plan to regulate short-term rentals, including those made through Airbnb and similar websites.

While the hearing isn’t focused solely on 51 Orchard Place, the property, owned by Beacon resident David Allis, has been front and center in the discussion.

Allis purchased the 2,400-square-foot, five-bedroom home after it was foreclosed in October. In December, some neighbors complained to the City Council after he cut down more than a dozen trees on the property. The city fined Allis $250 for taking down too many trees without a permit, but other neighbors thanked him for clearing the property and at the council’s March 5 meeting asked the city to refund the fine.

The home was refurbished in preparation for listing it on; the effort prompted the city earlier this year to consider regulating short-term rentals. (The council also revised the city’s tree-cutting regulations, changing the fine to $350 per tree rather than $250 per incident.)

David Allis, the owner of 51 Orchard Place, inside the home (Photo by J. Simms)

Beacon’s existing zoning code allows homeowners to rent out single-family homes, but the law is less clear when it comes to renting only part of a house. After hearing from the public, council members could also choose to allow rentals in non-residential parts of the city, like Main Street or the Linkage District. And any regulation the council adopts would likely require owners to obtain a permit for short-term rentals, along with regular inspections by the city.

“The concept is to allow it, but it has to be owner-occupied and there is a series of application requirements that it will need to follow,” City Attorney Nick Ward-Willis explained during a council meeting last month.

Where the issue gets even more complicated is at the state level. New York law refers to owner-occupied rentals in single-family dwellings as either traditional bed and breakfasts or “lodging houses,” with the latter requiring fire sprinklers and other heightened safety measures. The state code considers newly built dwellings as lodging houses, while homes converted into rentals are bed and breakfasts.

Most of the short-term rentals operated in Beacon, even if legal within the city’s zoning laws, probably violate the state’s code for fire safety, no matter which category they fall under, Building Inspector Tim Dexter said.

Airbnb, one of the largest platforms for short-term rentals, is happy to work with municipalities on “common-sense regulation” that “works for both local government as well as our community,” said Josh Meltzer, head of Northeast Policy for the company. “We look forward to finding a path [in Beacon] that not only addresses the need for transparency and public safety but empowers hosts to continue using their homes to earn extra income.”

According to the company, there were 110 Airbnb hosts in Beacon in 2017, with 94 percent of them listing a single property. No hosts had more than two listings.

Allis cut down more than a dozen trees outside the Orchard Place house. (File photo by J. Simms)

Guests stayed an average of two nights, with an average group size of just over two people — evidence, Airbnb says, that travelers staying in Beacon are primarily couples and families coming for weekend trips. The typical host in the city earned about $8,800 through the service last year.

Unlike Putnam County, Dutchess County collects a 4 percent room tax on every Airbnb rental, just as it does with hotel rooms. Earlier this month, more than 200 hosts and advocates gathered in Albany to urge lawmakers to adopt legislation that Airbnb says would modernize state laws, allowing New Yorkers to earn extra income through the rentals while addressing safety concerns and providing what is says would be $100 million in tax revenue.

Airbnb points to several examples where city officials have revised regulations of short-term rentals. In Portland, Maine, officials last year passed a law allowing short-term rentals in which the owner is not present, although registration fees are lower if a unit is owner-occupied.

In East Hampton, on Long Island, hosts applying for a short-term rental permit must submit a notarized Rental Property Self-Inspection Checklist that includes having the house number visible from the street, handrails on all stairways, properly marked electrical panels, smoke detectors installed and working in every bedroom, and fireplaces or wood-burning stoves having doors or screens, as well as pool safety requirements.

Allis, the Orchard Place property owner, says he plans to give renters a tour of the $475-per-night home, including its fire exits and other safety features, and if they have any concerns, he’s just a text message away.

“People would rather come into a home where they can work, turn on the TV and have a fireplace,” he said. “And if you get a bad tenant, they’re gone in a day.” Short-term rentals, he argued, are “perfect to promote Beacon,” while giving property owners the chance to earn extra income.

But other residents express concern that short-term rentals could disrupt neighborhoods.

“If somebody wants to rent a room in their home, with some regulation and registration, or do a vacation exchange, I don’t have a problem with that,” said Elaine Ciaccio, who lives a block from 51 Orchard Place. “But when you get people buying houses in residential neighborhoods as investment properties, then you’re starting to disrupt the community. I don’t want to live next to a small hotel. And if things should go south with the economy, these are the first people who are going to get out.”

11 thoughts on “Beacon May Regulate Short-term Rentals

  1. According to zoning regulations, short-term rentals are illegal in residential neighborhoods. The fact that the city has chosen not to enforce the code does not make it legal.

    • I totally agree. Single-family zoning means a single family, not short-term rentals. A few houses on my block have been renting rooms out but have no parking, so they park on the front lawn (it’s no longer a front yard) so it looks like a used car lot. Another house is like a hotel. They even advertise like one. Time to stop this abuse and enforce the one-family zoning already. It’s totally out of hand. The City Council should not try to change the law for the few people who want to run a rental business. That is for a multi-family housing or apartment zoning, not residential, single-family zoning.

      • According to Beacon’s building inspector, the zoning code allows single-family homes to be rented. When you talk about renting a room or two, that’s where it’s a grey area. But even if a rental is legal under Beacon’s zoning, the vast majority of homes in the city do not meet state fire code requirements, whether they’re defined as traditional B&Bs or lodging houses. My house, for instance, doesn’t have fire exits marked. So while it may be unclear if I rented a room on Airbnb whether I would be violating Beacon’s zoning code, I would definitely be violating state fire codes.

        • Not disagreeing with the law that lets you rent the your house out, but that is still under the same terms: single family rents whole house, long-term lease, not a rental for a few days or just one room. Again I’m seeing individuals renting individual rooms in a single family house, like a boarding house, and because of all the individuals “non-related” renting brings more cars than parking.

        • Homes are legal to rent out if registered with the city. However, short-term (less than 30 days) is not legal.

  2. This is a neighborhood zoned for single-family homes and not for greedy, law-disregarding “residents” hiding behind LLCs to set up a hotel.

    I support anyone or any family who is hosting a room in their home in a responsible manner. I’m a social worker and advocate for anyone who is struggling to pay a mortgage in today’s economy or has financial goals in place and monitors their guest. Non-owner occupied, short-term rentals are not welcome in our neighborhood. Period.

    I have every confidence that our city has weighed the pros/cons of this illegal activity and will be enforcing a law to safeguard its residents. Transient, unsupervised short-term renters with no regard for our community have no business in our neighborhoods.

    Beacon offers charming B&B’s, beautiful boutique hotels and neighboring towns offer larger hotels for such large groups of transients. And if there is an issue, no one needs to text a shady host.

  3. Rental registration is shown in the city code 173-5. As for short-term rental, any use not permitted in the zoning code is prohibited. I have also on several occasions asked at City Council meetings if it legal and been told by the city attorney it is not.

  4. Short-term rentals are catering to a market that is not served by boutique hotels and fancy B&B’s, namely those who can’t afford luxury accommodations but still want to experience Beacon. These people go out to Main Street restaurants and shop in our shops. They help spread the word about Beacon through glowing online reviews about their stay. As it is Main Street is largely shuttered three days a week for lack of customers.

    Killing short-term rentals will only add to Main Street’s woes and eventually to the city’s through lost tax revenue. Despite early fears, self-regulating short-term rentals, have worked extremely well. Why shut them down now because of one “outlier” who tried to game the system? Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater!

  5. Non-owner occupied short-term rentals only pose a negative impact to our community. The city is not even collecting the tax in the owner-occupied places at this time. And further, if someone can pay $500 a night they can certainly afford one of the local hotels and support that business, not take away from that actual industry.

    We should not have to wait on large parties of transients to support our local business owners. Because once they locate the next fun city to party through they will forget about our stores.