By Brendan Dyer
The discussion around regulating short- term rentals like Airbnb in Putnam Valley continued last week as residents made their voices heard on an issue that has been debated in town the last several months.
Supervisor Sam Oliverio said the issue with Airbnb is that investors buy a house only to rent it on a transient basis, taking it off the market for a young family looking to settle in Putnam Valley. The current law regarding transient rentals is not being enforced because the town board has opened discussion about how to regulate them, he noted. “Basically, anyone doing Airbnb, you’re not supposed to. But we’re not enforcing that,” said Oliverio.
Most residents spoke in support of Airbnb, claiming the opportunity to attract transient tenants will help support the town’s businesses and restaurants.
Resident Patty Villanova said the town is already struggling to enforce current rules. She said the town board should rely on existing codes and that it’s questionable whether or not Airbnb is an urgent problem.
“Having Airbnb has increased property value based on the increasing popularity of the region,” said Jennifer Behr. Behr is a resident of Putnam Valley and a transient renter who mentioned renting her home on a short-term basis is a valuable investment. She said that some renters come to Putnam Valley to experience the town then may ultimately buy a house.
Oliverio is concerned that Airbnb is a for-profit business and that the interests of the town may not be considered in each rental. Impassioned argument grew around proof of residence for transient renters who list their house or rooms on Airbnb as well. Oliverio wants Putnam Valley residents to pay their taxes and reside in Putnam Valley in order to qualify as short-term renters. Referring to the possibility of preventing investors from buying homes purposed as Airbnb locations, Oliverio asked, “Can we prevent someone not living in this town from buying a house?”
Villanova, shouting across the room, said it’s none of the town’s business what people do with their homes.
Andrea Rudkowski of Lookout Manor said, “If I own two houses, I want to be able to rent the other one whenever I want to.”
Despite proof of residence and enforcing current rental laws, most concerns of residents in the room revolved around environmental and neighborhood impact. Aging septic tanks in particular pose potential issues for homes that serve as Airbnb rentals.
Ina Cholst, President of the Roaring Brook Lake Board, said the life of a septic tank is 30 to 40 years. Cholst claims that the annual pumping of septic systems would not be sufficient to keep up with continued Airbnb rentals. She also points out that Airbnb is a private business and that their interests are only in their profits rather than the security, safety and wellness of the town.
“I wouldn’t say that as a town we would want to leave our regulation to a private, for-profit corporation,” said Cholst.
Councilwoman Jackie Annabi said that there are rules Airbnb regulates on their own which towns don’t even decide on.
These regulations, detailed in Airbnb’s terms and policies on their website, are “constantly refined” as Airbnb changes their approach to meet the needs of communities.
Vetting renters is currently under the responsibility of Airbnb using a review system in which tenants and renters receive feedback based on each stay. However, residents against Airbnb mostly commented on quality of life concerns and the long-term impact it may have on the community, such as people buying homes only to rent them out as an investment.
Resident Michael Grossman previously did Airbnb in the town while looking for a home to buy. He had eventually found one that he fixed up and now resides in. He said, “Regulations aren’t about the company or a transaction, it’s really the behavior that needs to be regulated.”
Oliverio suggested that anyone using their home as an Airbnb should be listed in a registry within the town that has information about the residence and a contact phone number. This would ensure that, in the event of an emergency, a responsible party can be reached. There is also the notion that homeowners need to be present when the house or a room is being rented to an Airbnb guest. He mentioned that if regulations are introduced, a separate section would be drafted in the town code to address Airbnb or transient rentals specifically.
“It has to be a happy medium,” Oliverio said.