Residents weigh in on short-term rental proposal

Residents weigh in on short-term rental proposal
Photo by Alex Harris

In a rare sight, Putnam Valley's town hall was filled on Wednesday evening with residents who had come to share their views on the proposed resolution to regulate short-term rentals such as Airbnb and VRBO properties.

For an hour and a half, nineteen people expressed opinions that could largely be grouped into two camps: those who view the increase in short-term rentals as a threat to their quality of life, especially for those who live on lakes; and those who view the regulations as restricting their rights as property owners and impeding their right (or need) to earn money by leveraging their homes as financial assets. The latter group asserted that there were plenty of regulations already on the books to address quality-of-life concerns and what was needed was more and better enforcement.

After everyone had spoken, Town Supervisor Jacqueline Annabi said the board would take the varied comments into consideration and would present a revised proposal that would be considered at a second public hearing scheduled for August 16th at 6pm.  

The board now faces the challenge of trying to reconcile these very different viewpoints. Part of their challenge is that the current proposal offers a one-size-fits-all solution to the quality-of-life complaints often associated with Airbnb properties. The common refrain is that large groups of people arrive here with no ties to the community, crowd into houses on small lots, throw large, noisy parties, and burden aging septic systems. Residents complain that these transient visitors often use beaches that are exclusively for use by property owners and their guests and may be unaware, and even destructive, of the fragile ecology of the lakes they are temporarily enjoying.

One point everyone seemed to agree on is that there are "good" and "bad" owners of short-term rentals, as well as "good" and "bad" full-time residents. Several current owners of Airbnb properties said that because they live near their rental properties and have respectful relationships with their neighbors, they can be responsible stewards and don't need additional regulations. Several said that they had experienced much more serious quality-of-life issues with long-term renters and full-time residents.

The proposed regulations do appear to be aimed primarily at people with no ties to Putnam Valley who might buy up local homes solely to run them as rent-producing businesses. Supervisor Annabi said their proposal was modeled on a similar one from Floyd, NY, where she said it had been effective. According to one speaker, there are currently 43 short-term rental properties being operated in Putnam Valley, about three-quarters of them on lakes: 10 each on Roaring Brook Lake and Lake Peekskill and 12 on Lake Oscawana.

At the end of the hearing, some town board members suggested that their goal was to limit the number of people who are in it just to make money, rather than to target those who live here and are only renting so they can afford to remain in the community. Whether new regulations can be devised to thread that needle remains to be seen. It's hard to see how proposed "house rules" for health and safety, for instance, could only be required of those running Airbnb businesses to make money, rather than also requiring them of homeowners who are doing short-term rentals to cover their expenses.

Photo by Alex Harris

Another thorny issue was the board's proposal to cap the number of short-term rentals that would be allowed at any given time. The current proposal does not cite a specific number for that cap and gives the town board the authority to set and change it. The prospect that homeowners who depend on short-term rental income might find themselves unable to get their permits renewed because the number of applications exceeds the cap was clearly of deep concern.

Although the issue of regulating short-term rentals has obviously struck a chord in the community, the tone of the meeting remained calm and civil. Residents almost universally thanked the board for being willing to grapple with this complicated issue. Town board members, in turn, seemed equally pleased that local residents had shown up. "It's good to see a full room," said town board member Christian Russo. "At a lot of these meetings, there's one or two people sitting here. Thanks for coming out."  

Those who can't attend the August 16th public hearing will be able to watch it streamed live on the town's website and can view it later in the video archive.

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