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

2 thoughts on “Letter: Short-Term Rentals

  1. Great letter regarding the AirBnb hysteria that seems to be overtaking Philipstown, Putnam Valley and other 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 money and leave. What could be better than that?

    Meanwhile, in neighboring Putnam Valley, we have no commercial rateables and all of our tax burden rests on about 5,000 or so residential properties. The people who live here either commute to jobs in Westchester or NYC or have home-based businesses like contracting or remote work. For many people, especially seniors and retirees, Airbnb is a perfect way for them to supplement their income and 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 of sorts in our communities. At one of our public hearings I heard that the 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 on the books 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 whole Airbnb 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 over-taxed 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 Phillipstown, but there are many short-term rentals in the Hudson Highlands, not all of them approved and legal, and many 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 strictly enforced 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 large 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 the full-time investment it often is in Beacon and maybe your town too.

    Our towns have many single-family homes, and they need to stay single-family homes, not “Sleeps 7” or “Sleeps 12” while the investor lives in Brooklyn. That’s what is next-door to me. While people like the writer cloud the issue by describing romantic pairs visiting for the weekend, my husband and I live with large groups of people that 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 the writer would like to pretend they are.

    Boarding houses where I grew up were on the Main Street, the guests stayed longer than three days, references were checked, and the owner lived in the house. Of how many current Airbnbs, legal and illegal, is this true?

    As far as calling short-term rentals an “economic engine,” I ask the writer or anyone else to 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 facts, 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, 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.

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