Residents Air Views About Airbnb

Board hosts public hearing on proposed regulations

The May 6 public hearing on Cold Spring’s proposed law to regulate short-term rentals set the stage for a May 18 workshop at which the Village Board will consider possible revisions. More than 50 residents attended the hearing, held via Zoom. 

The proposed changes to the village code include about 20 provisions that would govern short-term rentals such as those booked through Airbnb — and range from using a lottery system to select operators, allowing a maximum of 34 in the village and prohibiting any from operating within 300 feet of each other, to limiting rentals to owner-occupied buildings, allowing a maximum of 60 rental nights per year and requiring two-night minimum stays.

One resident, Eliza Starbuck, hinted at the challenge the board faces. “There are 655 houses and 655 points of view in this village” on the issue, she said. 

Starbuck covered various points, including the need to prevent people from “playing Monopoly with our village, buying up properties and turning them into Airbnb hotels.” When that happens, she said, “we lose a lot,” including “the families in those residences and kids in school and playing on the block.” She advocated a tiered system with fees and regulations that consider different scenarios. 

Aaron Wolfe felt the proposed law was “very good. It’s fascinating to hear people say something is being taken away from them when STRs have been illegal in the village since the [current] code was put in place,” he said. 

Alex Miller, who has hosted more than 350 guests in his Main Street rental over eight years, said he has had no complaints from neighbors. “People are much more respectful of a true shared property” where the owner also resides on the property, he said. He said his unit conservatively generates $20,000 a year in business for restaurants and retailers. 

Irene Pieza said she uses short-term rentals when she travels but also has three operating within sight of her Paulding Avenue home and understands concerns that neighborhoods can be turned into “more of a business district.”

John Lane is part of a group of Cold Spring operators that has written to the board expressing concern over the proposed law. Lane said he supports requiring rentals to be owner-occupied but opposed several provisions such as the lottery and regulated minimums and maximums. 

Phil Heffernan, who operates an Airbnb on Church Street with Denise Friedly, said his first impression was that the law is “a solution in search of a problem.” He called the proposal “a place to start” but compared it to putting fingers in holes in the dike when there is no impending flood.

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Matt Francisco, who is a candidate for the Village Board, disagreed, calling it “a thorny issue” that “needs to be addressed,” noting that the contentious 2019 public meeting made it clear some regulation is desired.

David and Melia Marzollo, who run a short-term rental on Main Street, said the proposals should be relaxed because of the pandemic. “This is one of the most trying financial times,” David said. “Having an STR has saved a lot of people.” With their regular business closed, “it was the only way we could pay our mortgage,” Melia added. She urged the board to select one or two key areas and develop regulations to address them.

Regulating excess noise was one issue that brought widespread agreement. Tom O’Quinn, who owns a short-term rental in Palm Springs, California, said the city imposes stiff fines that have put an end to problems. “You cannot have any music outside your house — ever. Guests get fined $1,000,” he said. 

Michelle McCoy and Shelley Gilbert both complained of excessive noise, outdoor parties and other disruptive behavior at Airbnbs near their Mountain Avenue homes. 

In response, Nadia Lee, who operates one at 27 Mountain Ave., was apologetic for the behavior of some of her guests in the past, saying as hosts they had learned from their mistakes and no longer allowed large groups. Their STR has remained closed during the pandemic, she said. She advocated a “mid-range approach” to regulations, so the rules don’t “destroy opportunities for hosts.” 

Tracy Bunye fears the proposed law would be detrimental to families who rent their homes only occasionally. “We go on two short vacations a year” that are paid for by renting out their home, she said. “This law is clearly not meant for people like us.” A number of Cold Spring families also rent out their homes once a year, during West Point graduation. 

The village clerk will accept written comments on the proposed law by mail or email until 4 p.m. on Tuesday (May 18).

2 thoughts on “Residents Air Views About Airbnb

  1. There are some misconceptions about Airbnb that, as a long time Airbnb host and guest, I feel I should clarify and share with our neighbors in Cold Spring:

    1- Some unfamiliar with Airbnb believe that it is a cash cow, and that somehow hosts are gaming the system by renting all or part of their property.

    If you ask any host, or do the math yourself, you’ll see, for example, that a space that Airbnbs for $200 a night, even if it is occupied 52 weekends a year, brings in about $1,600 per month which is less than year round rental, and which would not cover payments and property taxes, let alone utilities and upkeep. It’s just supplemental income. Without it, many more homes in our area would’ve gone into foreclosure in the past decade, something that would’ve shrunk the tax base and put downward pressure on everybody else’s property values.

    Airbnbing is not unscrupulous or gaming the system either, in my opinion. It’s just the latest way for people to rent out part of their own property to have supplemental income. Home owners have hosted people and animals for centuries. It’s the same thing updated for our times. It’s an age old property right.

    2- Some think, as I used to, that short term rental guests are transient strangers who come to party and leave a wreck behind. Nothing can be farther from the truth. These guests have been vetted, have government ID’s, bank information and contact addresses on file. Most importantly, they have been reviewed by other guests and hosts. We have hosted nearly 300 guests in the past 7 years. They are mostly families, couples and friends gathering for an occasion, or for no reason, but perfectly normal people. We haven’t had any serious issues with any of the guests. The only time we had trouble renting out was with a year-round tenant who had a lease but didn’t want to pay the rent. It took months to evict him. Now, if ever we don’t feel comfortable with a guest, all we have to do is wait till Sunday when they check out.

    3- Some think that if they stop Airbnb rentals, there will be less people around and less noise and nuisance. If these units don’t Airbnb, I don’t think they will go out of circulation. I imagine they go back to rentals. (Consider: If 100 such units were to rent out to the ideal American nuclear families, each with 2 children, that’d add $3 million a year to town school taxes! Who’s paying for this?) If the same properties don’t go back to rentals or some other way to generate supplemental income, some owners will end up in financial distress and may eventually go into foreclosure.

    4- The flip side of both arguments for, and against, Airbnbing is that there are hidden benefits to Airbnb, and there are implied obligations we and our local government have in respecting others’ property rights. I happen to agree that this proposal is “a solution searching for a problem”. What real problems have there been in more than a decade of Airbnb in the village? All I’ve heard is a few occasional instances of elevated noise levels — music and laughter in this case, and the possibility that “in the future” some may buy up properties to set up “Airbnb Hotels” and get rich!

    To put things in perspective, we moved to Garrison (population density 220/SqMile) from Upper East Side of NYC (population density 194,000/SqMile), where we lived happily high atop Szechuan Gardens Restaurant. We could have moved to Cold Spring Village (population density 3,300/SqMile). Point is, if one lives in the most populous village in the county on a 1/4 acre lot, what is a reasonable level of noise one should expect? Can you reasonably expect to live on 0.6 square miles with thousands of other people and not be bothered by any noises or nuisance?

    There are hidden benefits to Airbnb that are rarely discussed. For us, the best part is sharing the beauty of this place, and hearing guests remind us what a unique and spectacular area we live in. We meet extraordinary people from all over the world. But, mostly we meet stressed out city dwellers who come here to enjoy nature and hike it. Some of these people are future residents of our town. They make our town more famous and more desirable. Aside from everything else, our properties will be worth more. That’s a good thing.

    5- And lastly, let’s remember that change is a constant in a First world society. These days, taxi cabs, timeshares and gas stations with a 2 bay garage and a cigarette vending machine are being replaced with Uber, Airbnb and gas pumps with a kwik-e-mart and a drive through Dunkin Donut.

    The final arbiter of what goes forward and what gets stopped here is “success”, not the fact that some want to keep things quiet and quaint. This upstart Airbnb that the town is passing laws against is where more people sleep tonight than at Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt and Holiday Inn- combined!

    Airbnb hosts already pay State and Federal income taxes on Airbnb revenues. So now the local government wants a piece of the action, and they gladly let angry residents make the case for them. I can understand that. But why are some citizens so adamantly against it? The average resident of Cold Spring Village has nothing to gain, and so much to lose by trying to stop Airbnb.

    The whole real estate and hospitality business is changing. Even banks are incorporating Airbnb income into mortgage affordability formulas. It’s a reality of our times. Shouldn’t we get used to it already and put our energies into making it work better for us?

  2. George Orwell sure was right about how language can change reality. To dredge up a few terms from yesteryear, those “short-term rentals” busting out like dandelions all over Cold Spring used to be called apartments, and “hosts” were what we called landladies and landlords. One flip of phrasing, and it’s as if we apartment-dwellers, another layer of stable, vibrant village life, who were also neighbors with our own pets and children, never existed.

    In our dollar-chasing society, Cold Spring’s hosts will surely be allowed to max out the wealth of their charming properties, while local governance will have no choice but to look the other way. Meanwhile, we renters can go to hell or Houston, whichever is cooler in the summer.

    (No longer renting in) Cold Spring

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