Letter: How to Fix Airbnb Regulations

The Cold Spring Chamber of Commerce supports short-term rentals if they are defined, regulated and fairly taxed. We also support code updates that reasonably address the three primary concerns expressed by residents in the public hearing in 2019 and gathered in our community survey: (1) prevent noisy, disruptive parties that disrespect neighbors, (2) prevent safety hazards and (3) prevent the loss of village housing stock for new full-time residents.

The trustees’ proposed regulations address the first of these concerns by requiring visitors to rent for two nights or more. (Airbnb studied the issue of pop-up parties and found that hosts could reduce their likelihood by requiring guests to book two nights or more.) In any case, Airbnb bans parties, provides a hotline for neighbors to report offenders, and excludes guests and hosts responsible for parties.

The proposal addresses the second concern by requiring permit holders to pass fire and safety inspections, and it addresses the third through measures that

require permit holders to own and live in the residence they rent, limiting the number of rental days and making condo and apartment dwellers ineligible.

However, we feel that the proposed policy has provisions that are unnecessarily complicated, restrictive and hard to comply with. It introduces restrictions more stringent than what has been adopted by most communities in the Hudson Valley. For instance, most communities limit short-term rentals to 90 to 180 days a year, rather than 60. Limiting the number of annual permits to 34 households would reduce the availability of accommodations by two-thirds. (There are currently at least 100 hosts in the village.)

This shift would reduce the incomes of many residents, as well as of the Main Street merchants who serve visitors. It would also complicate the lives of residents who need local accommodations for visitors.

A cumbersome application and an annual permit lottery may make sense for the frequent host who intends the maximum number of rentals, but they are inappropriate for the host who rents once or twice a year, perhaps during trips away from home. If the lottery goes to more frequent hosts, accommodations increase. If it goes to more occasional hosts, they decrease. Public policy should not produce such random outcomes.

We recommend that the trustees increase the rental limit to 80 days a year, increase the number of one-year permits to 50 and allow residents to apply for them at any time throughout the year. In addition, we recommend offering a second type of minimal-use permit, for occasional hosts (say, up 3 rentals a year), provide a limit of how long a period each permit is good for (say, renting up to 30 days total per year) and would carry a higher fee (say, $150).

Several other elements of the proposal are unduly restrictive. We fear that they will push residents into noncompliance, thus increasing dissension and the village’s enforcement burden. The provision that no permit will be allowed within 300 feet in any direction from a property where a current permit has been issued seems unnecessary. Given the limit of 60 rental days a year, adjacent permit holders may not often have guests at the same time. The requirement that short-term rentals in the R-1 residential district have one off-street parking space is inconsistent with other regulations; residences with no off-street parking are common and legal in the village. The occupants of such residences may park an unlimited number of vehicles on the streets. Denying that right to visitors staying in those residences seems unjustifiable.

Moreover, a requirement of one off-street parking place does not necessarily reduce on-street parking because it does not mandate use of the off-street space. And when homeowners who park in the street rent their house, they often go elsewhere, so there is no net increase in on-street parking. The requirement of one off-street parking place is thus arbitrary and discriminatory, depriving some residents (those with no driveway) of a right to rent enjoyed by others, for no objective reason.

Restrictions like these are out of place in the policy. They aim to address problems (noisy neighbors, lack of parking) that are not caused solely by rentals and that are better dealt with through broader village policies.

We suggest starting with a more lenient policy and then increasing the restrictions later if problems arise.

Eliza Starbuck, Cold Spring
Starbuck is president of the Cold Spring Chamber of Commerce.

4 thoughts on “Letter: How to Fix Airbnb Regulations

  1. I live in Chestnut Street and do not operate a vacation rental from my home. However, I have friends in the community that do and I have experience both using and operating vacation rentals in the past.

    I am in agreement that there should be some regulations around short term rentals in the village, but they should be entirely surrounding safety issues and disruption of neighborhoods. I wholeheartedly disagree with almost all of the proposed regulations, which essentially put so much burden on homeowners as to make renting out a room, or an entire home on occasion, not feasible.

    As I mentioned, regulation should be to protect human life and the character of the community only. The village board should not be spending its valuable time and effort creating rules and regulations to solve problems that do not exist.

    First, about realistic regulation. Yes, issue permits and charge an annual fee. Yes, inspect properties to make sure they are safe. Yes, prohibit LLCs or corporations from buying up real estate with the express purpose of operating rentals. And yes, perhaps, the biggest issue with rental homes: regulate noise and disruption to the community. Have a no-noise outside policy, with large fines: $500 for a first offense, $1,000 for a second offense, etc., payable by the guest. The city of Palm Springs, California, has one of the biggest vacation rental markets in the country and they have very strict rules around noise. Once Cold Spring has a reputation for this level of enforcement, people will not risk huge fines to party late at night. And when they do, the fines are paid to the village, which would help pay for enforcement.

    Now, the unnecessary and overburdensome regulations thought up by the board:

    1. A lottery system: this would only create a rush of demand, pitting neighbors against each other and most likely encouraging people who may in the future want to rent their home for a weekend to apply, just so they don’t miss out on the possibility of income.

    2. A cap on 34 rental properties: this is way too low- and where did this number come from? Why such a small number? Some people want to rent a room on occasion and some people want to rent their home on a regular basis while traveling, or for extra income. This is inviting an unnecessarily competitive nature and lumping all sorts of uses into the same group.

    3. A cap of use at 60 nights per year: why? This is arbitrary and serves no purpose.

    4. A maximum of four adults and four children: why? What if three couples are visiting town and want to stay together? Why the delineation between adults and children? I know, based on where I live, that children can be just as loud and disruptive as adults. This rule makes no sense.

    5. Parties are not permitted and hosts must use “best efforts” to ensure guests don’t create unreasonable noise or disturbance. Of all the rules, this one seems to have missed the mark most of all. What does “best efforts” even mean? The simplest and most effective way to prevent this [real] problem is to have a noise regulation and fine noisy or disruptive groups.

    6. A two-night minimum on rentals: why? What does this discourage or encourage? What if someone wants to come hike for a weekend and can only afford one night of lodging? This is arbitrary and unnecessary.

    7. A 300-foot radius rule: yet another arbitrary and unnecessary rule. This will create competition and bad blood between neighbors who may want to rent their home or a room in their home.

    I thank the board for their efforts on this issue so far and urge them to listen to the voices that have spoken up in support of the use of their homes as short term rentals, so many of which contributed to the Zoom meeting last week.

  2. It’s important to understand that the combination of existing rules (parking, zoning, permitting) around short-term rentals (called tourist homes in the existing code), make nearly all short-term rentals illegal in the Village of Cold Spring. When I was on the Zoning Board, I asked if any permits had ever been issued for tourist homes, and the answer was a clear “no.” The fact that the Village has not enforced these regulations and doesn’t have fines listed for violations does not make STRs legal.

    The effect of unregulated/unenforced STRs is kind of like the invisible gasses coming out of our cars. They have a cumulative negative effect that’s hard to reverse, and are gradually making life less pleasant in a variety of ways.

    The effect of uncontrolled STRs works like this: I know of an STR home that rented for something like $10,000 a month to a guest using it only on weekends. That puts enormous pressure on the housing market, property taxes, and probably prices of more general items like groceries. (Have you seen the $80 jars of New Zealand honey at Foodtown?) People are cashing in and moving out to more affordable places.

    And then there are the slower and far less visible effects: Fewer real neighbors, fewer familiar faces on the streets, fewer people involved in local activities.

    If the proposed regulations, which are far more generous than what exists now, can be enforced, the village will benefit in the long run. The regulations considered too burdensome are exactly what will preserve the community while allowing many resident homeowners to benefit from renting out their own homes.

    The proposal is a good step that vastly expands the legality of short term rentals, and the village should approve it and enforce it.

  3. The Cold Spring Chamber of Commerce is pushing for more Airbnbs in the village? Doesn’t the proliferation of private short-term rentals in the village undermine the local inns? Who’s looking out for their interests? [via Facebook]

    • The Airbnb market is different than that of the hotel market. Many people, myself included, use both Airbnbs and stay in hotels depending on which experience meets their needs. There are several new hotel projects in the surrounding area that are exciting and much needed. Smaller legal B&Bs can post their rooms on Airbnb, too.

      It is the year 2021, and all kinds of industries are changing; online shopping is an example of this. Many shop owners in the village have adapted to this change and have become more profitable because of it. Businesses need to adapt to thrive, and this town should be no exception. Having a protectionist agenda in the village is going to do more harm than good. While surrounding communities benefit from sustainable growth, Cold Spring will see opportunities lost to towns with more creative and collaborative governments.

      Competition is good for consumers and good for business, as it challenges the status quo and forces innovation and entrepreneurship. Smart and fair regulation is good, we are all for it. But that regulation should be a benefit, not a hindrance.