Letter: Short-Term Rentals

As we discuss in the Highlands whether we should regulate and tax Airbnb rentals, let us keep an open mind.

According to Forbes, the Hudson Valley and Catskills are the second-most popular Airbnb destination in the U.S. Some places spend millions trying to attract visitors; we should welcome the fact that people from all over the world are discovering the beauty of where we live.

Airbnb has been the biggest economic engine in our area for at least a decade. Guests typically arrive on Friday and leave on Sunday. They shop at Foodtown, The Main Course and Yannitelli’s, and they eat at Jimmy’s, Hillary’s and Cathryn’s. So far we haven’t had any real problems except occasional complaints about noise or parking, which can always happen.

Charging a “room tax” will quickly hit the point of diminishing returns. It will likely grow as it has in Narragansett (where it is now nearly 10 percent) and New York City (20 percent). I know firsthand how it can deter visitors because I have stopped going to Narragansett.

Airbnb’ing is not a cash cow. It’s a supplement. If both my Airbnb properties rented every single weekend, it would still not pay much more than half my taxes and expenses.

There is a suggestion that investor money is or could buy multitudes of properties for Airbnb’ing, but I am not aware of a single instance of this in Philipstown.

Airbnb properties may have temporarily taken some rental properties off the market, but market forces are correcting the imbalance. Many hosts are realizing that annual rentals may be more profitable considering utility costs, wear and tear and the fact that Airbnb guests only come on weekends and are absent at least a quarter of the year.

Finally, this type of regulation and taxation borders on infringing on property owners’ long-established rights. Airbnb is essentially boarding, an implicit privilege when you pay your property taxes. Everyone who has seen It’s a Wonderful Life knows that if George Bailey hadn’t been born, his mother would be running a boarding house. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

This not a new “racket” that a swarm can form around to hunt for a piece of the action. Please weigh all aspects of the issue so that together we can do what is right for our community and this beautiful Hudson Valley.

Mahmoud Shahbodaghi, Garrison


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5 thoughts on “Letter: Short-Term Rentals

  1. This is a great letter regarding the AirBnb hysteria that seems to be overtaking Philipstown, Putnam Valley and nearby Hudson Valley towns. Since when does the local government have the right to tell us how we can use our homes and our property? We pay some of the highest taxes in the U.S. for the “privilege” of living here and to add insult to injury we’re now told that we will have to pay another tax for doing something that has zero impact on our neighbors or anyone else.

    The truth is that tourism is the best possible way for a town to make money. The tourists and visitors who pour into Cold Spring during the nice weather created a thriving Main Street economy and a nice commercial tax base to help the residential homeowners. These visitors do not put kids in our schools or make other demands for expensive services. They come here, spend lots of money and leave. What could be better than that?

    Meanwhile, in Putnam Valley, we have no commercial rateables and our tax burden rests solely on 5,000 residential prop-erties. The people who live here either commute to jobs in Westchester or New York City or have home-based businesses. For many people, especially seniors and retirees, Airbnb is a perfect way to supplement income to allow them to stay in their homes.

    Another fallacy that is being promulgated by the anti-Airbnb faction is that somehow these short-term rentals are causing a crime wave. At one of our public hearings, I heard that renters are often guilty of partying, playing loud music and/or trashing the homes and neighborhoods. What nobody mentioned was that the laws we already have apply to temporary renters as well as full-time residents. If someone is doing something illegal, call the sheriff or the local police. What’s the problem?

    Let’s be honest. This brouhaha is not about public safety or any of the other phony excuses being bandied about by the greedy politicians as they try to make inroads on our most precious civil rights. Rather, it is simply another money and power grab to be imposed on the already overtaxed citizenry of our towns.

  2. The writer of the letter would be naive if he weren’t an investor who hosts two Airbnbs. There may not be investors for short-term rentals in Philipstown, as he claims, but there are many short-term rentals in the Highlands, not all of them legal, and many of the hosts live far away. Short-term rentals are common in Beacon to the detriment of quiet neighborhoods whose residents wake up one morning with a hotel next door.

    I am not against Airbnbs, but we need strict laws and fees to cover the costs of enforcing them. Who wants to bother the very busy Building Department or police or even ourselves with weekly exposure to groups of people living in single-family homes? The owner needs to live on the property and continue to live there while hosting, except for time-limit options (30 days in many cities), so that it is just supplemental income and not a full-time investment.

    Our towns have many single-family homes, and they need to stay single-family homes, not “sleeps 7” or “sleeps 12” rentals where the owner lives in Brooklyn. That’s what is next door to me. While people cloud the issue by describing romantic pairs visiting for the weekend, my husband and I live with groups of people who stay in the house from Thursday to Monday. Many Airbnbers come for weddings and often celebrate at their home-away-from-home three nights straight. Would you like groups of 10 rolling their suitcases from the train or coming in several cars, arriving “home” drunk at night, and blocking the sidewalk wherever they go? What about the families next door with small children?

    Airbnbs are hotels and not the boarding houses some people would like to pretend they are. When I was growing up, the boarding houses were on Main Street, the guests stayed longer than three days, references were checked, and the owner lived in the house. How often is this true with many Airbnbs?

    As far as calling short-term rentals an economic engine: prove it. Corporate Airbnb talks about this all the time: it was the centerpiece of its TV commercials attacking the regulations proposed in Jersey City. But I have never seen any real numbers that weigh the economic advantages to the owner against the costs to the people next door, the loss of affordable apartments and homes that could be rented by people who actually live in the town, and maybe even work there, and the impact on the environment of constantly rotating masses of people who show up weekend after weekend and weekdays, too.
    Seventy percent of Jersey City’s voters voted for strictly enforced laws for short-term hotel housing. The Hudson Valley deserves no less.

    • Why treat visitors differently than we would residents who are breaking the law? We have more than enough codes, rules, laws and regulations on the books to deal with wrongdoing.

  3. Contrary to popular belief, short-term rentals that bring tourists to Cold Spring are not necessarily a financial benefit for the village. All the sales tax revenue collected by local merchants is distributed to the MTA, New York State and Putnam County, and the county does not share sales tax revenue with its towns and villages. Cold Spring receives a paltry $7,500 from the county to assist with collection of garbage and recyclables. That’s it.

    Meanwhile, increasing tourism costs the village a lot — the disposal of trash, maintenance of the public restrooms, in-creasing costs of water and wastewater treatment, traffic congestion, and wear and tear on our roads, sidewalks, parks and infrastructure. These municipal costs are invisible to most people, but if we did not spend the money to maintain them, residents would quickly notice.

    No one is suggesting banning all short-term rentals. That was Beacon’s approach and hosts continue renting their properties anyway, with property owners bearing the brunt of all costs associated with increasing tourism. In Cold Spring, the mayor and trustees are working to find a way to manage short-term rentals that offsets rising costs yet maintains our distinctive charm and quality of life. Our task is to find a balanced approach to managing short-term rentals that addresses the needs of residents, visitors and business owners alike.

    Miller is a Cold Spring village trustee.

  4. The owners and promoters of short-term rentals need to talk to each other about sloppy management and disregard for residents. It is disingenuous to argue that Foodtown or village shops will close if Airbnbs are regulated. The police are not property managers. The neighbors are not silent business partners or a concierge. The sloppy, rude and exploitative short-term rental owners have invited this scrutiny. [via Facebook]