Rental dilemma

Short-term rentals and room tax laws may need change, regulation

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 10/28/20

MONTICELLO, NY — So, someone puts up a million-dollar house and settles into the peace of the country. But then the house next door gets turned into a short-term rental (STRs) with parties …

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Rental dilemma

Short-term rentals and room tax laws may need change, regulation

Posted

MONTICELLO, NY — So, someone puts up a million-dollar house and settles into the peace of the country. But then the house next door gets turned into a short-term rental (STRs) with parties every week.

At last Thursday’s executive committee meeting, legislative chair Rob Doherty and legislator Joe Perrello talked about the real-life, if anonymous, situation as an example of a larger problem: What can be done about the short-term rentals in the area? 

Their existence isn’t the issue. 

The lack of regulation is, and so is the county’s need to collect room tax.

The good

Legislators made it very clear last Thursday at a discussion of STRs, which are sometimes known as AirBnBs, although that’s only one company among many. They support the businesses. After all, many already pay room tax, and their denizens shop in the community. Sales taxes make their way back to the county. Sometimes short-term renters like it here so much, they buy a house. 

The bad

But legislators are worried about, for instance, “in Smallwood, there are 20 people in a three-bedroom cabin,” as legislature chair Rob Doherty said. “It’s just not safe. And—you’ll be shocked—they’re drinking.” 

What about fire hazards? Is the septic up to date?

Other legislators cited noise complaints, which seem to be endemic in areas like Smallwood and Kiamesha Lake. 

Jennifer Grimes, in the audience, had a different take. Her company owns many STRs in the region. 

“There are some benefits to regulation from where we stand—if handled thoughtfully,” she acknowledged, adding that fines are very motivating. “The Town of Callicoon has already done this. They check your house for code. What we’d be wary about is looking for a solution to a problem for which there’s already an avenue to address it. Shouldn’t enforcement be the first step?” She was also concerned that STRs would be targeted over homeowners.

“Residents have a one-day party,” said Perrello, “so people tolerate it.” But STRs might host different people every week, so neighbors could be dealing with endless parties. 

Former member of the sheriff’s department and current legislator Luis Alvarez pointed out that, sometimes, the only agency with the power to deal with noise complaints is law enforcement (code enforcement officers, it was mentioned, work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays). 

“Some towns don’t have a police department,” he said. “All they have is the sheriff’s department. The county is going to have to take some action in areas where they have no enforcement.” 

It can also be hard to track down who’s responsible, Alvarez added. Owners lease the property, which then gets subleased.

Legislator Alan Sorensen said, “There’s merit to having minimum standards, ensuring sufficient on-site parking. AirBnBs are an important part of the county’s tourism industry. It grows the tax base and brings people into the county. Towns and villages should enact local laws.” 

...and the out-of-date

Treasurer Nancy Buck talked about the need to amend the law when it comes to who has to pay room tax and what the penalties should be. 

“The current local law identifies certain properties [as taxable]. Now we have all kinds of new properties, we have glamping, we have treehouses.”

“Covered wagons,” said Doherty. 

“So we need to tweak it. And we also had in there that it was a $100 fine for not signing up [for room tax]. Now, how unrealistic is that in today’s world?” Buck said. 

“These rooms are going for $500 a night,” Doherty said. 

But who would root out malefactors and enforce this? A county employee? 

And towns vary, Buck said. They don’t all have the same level of problem. A county-wide solution might not be appreciated.

She also gave an example of a non-room-taxable entity—a campsite where you bring your own tent or your own RV. 

Any revenue generated from changes to room tax law, everyone agreed, should be shared with the towns. 

Perrello, Doherty, and Buck plan to attend a regional Board of Supervisors meeting to get everyone’s take on the best approach. 

Something needs to happen, Doherty said. Because “it’s the wild west right now.”

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