Airbnb Faces Uncertain Future In Town

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    Choice is to ban or regulate short-term rentals
    “The board finds that it is in the best interest of the Town of North Hempstead to amend Chapter 2 of the Town Code entitled ‘Administration and Enforcement’ in order to prohibit the establishment and operation of short-term or transient rentals within the town. The board recognizes that oftentimes the occupants of such short-term rentals are not invested in, nor do they have any connection to, the town community and the residential neighborhood in which the short-term rental is located. In instances where the owner of a rental dwelling is not present during a short-term stay, the presence of transient visitors can adversely impact the community because of the potential for excessive noise, parking issues, disorderly conduct, the accumulation of refuse, and other nuisances. In addition, short-term rentals remove housing stock that could otherwise be available for long-term rentals or sale. The provisions of this section are intended to preserve and protect the health, character, safety, and general welfare of the residential and mixed-use neighborhoods where such uses may exist, and to mitigate the adverse effects of short-term rentals.”
    —Legislative Intent of the Local Law

    At the Town of Hempstead Aug. 4 board meeting, Pat Higgins pleaded for a law that allows owner-occupied houses to serve as Airbnb hosts. (Screenshot)

    The Town of North Hempstead wants to do something about the short-term/transient rentals engendered by the rise of the web company Airbnb. The public hearing at the Aug. 4 town board meeting did not settle the issue, and more comment will be heard at the Sept. 22 board meeting.
    In introducing the resolution, Councilwoman Mariann Dalimonte stated, “There have been multiple complaints recently from residents throughout the town concerning short-term or transient rentals. Residents with short-term rentals in our neighborhoods often complain about increased noise, litter and parking and traffic issues. Short-term rentals are negatively impacting our quality of life, which is often the reason these residents purchased their homes where they did in the first place. The local law will define a short-term rental property as a property rented out for a period of less than 30 consecutive days and is aligned with the New York State Building Code. Several villages within the town have code regulating short-term rentals which are far more restrictive than what is being proposed here.”
    During public comment, Doug Kraiman spoke in favor of banning these types of rentals. He has lived in Port Washington for 15 years in what he called “a quiet cul de sac.” The house next to his has historically been a rental, which he had no problem with, until the owner started listing the place on Airbnb.
    The result, he said, was a revolving door of short-term visitors who “have no regard for our lives. There’s a jacuzzi in the house and they’ve had wild parties. People have been sick in the street. Some months ago we sent in a video from our Ring doorbell of a woman knocking on our door at midnight. She woke up our dog and kids [because she was] looking for a wine opener.”
    When it’s not being rented, Kraiman continued, the house is empty, mentioning a fire that started in the backyard there some months ago and fortunately his son, 14, spotted the fire and raised the alarm.
    “There’s no security there,” Kraiman said. “It’s just an empty dark house when it’s not a rental. It’s fine if it was a long-term rental. The short-term thing is really affecting the neighborhood. Many of the neighbors are concerned about security. We don’t know who these people are. We’ve had a lot of speeding through the neighborhood. And it’s been very upsetting.”
    Pat Higgins of Port Washington sympathized with Kraiman, but used Airbnb to rent rooms and wanted to see regulation, not an outright ban.
    “I don’t see the same kinds of problems [happening] if the home is occupied by the owner and the owner is permitted to rent out a spare room,” she pointed out, going on to detail a complicated family life that necessitated her continuing to live in the village, but also needing extra income to enable her to afford it.
    “I was born in the Town of North Hempstead,” Higgins continued. “I grew up there. I raised my kids there. I got married there. That’s my life. I love my home, but especially since the reassessment and the hike in property taxes, if I could not be an Airbnb host, I would be forced to leave.”
    A former nurse forced to retire because of health problems, Higgins said she has had no problems with her renters, most of them professionals and also people with ties to the town who come in for family reunions, funerals, weddings and school reunions. She has also hosted for longer terms students that come for internships.

    Doug Kraiman expressed his support to the town’s proposal to ban short-term rentals as he spoke before the Town of North Hempstead Town Board at its Aug. 4 meeting. (Screenshot)

    “Because of the way the website is set up, I can screen everybody before I decide whether I’m going to let them stay and I know several other hosts that do the same thing,” Higgins observed. “They care about their homes, they care about their neighbors. They’re not going to just rent it to some crazy person that they know nothing about. Most of these people have stayed in Airbnb previously. The hosts in those places write reviews. I read the reviews. I see what they say about these people. If there’s something I don’t like, I don’t accept them.”
    Airbnb, she added, also has a process to screen its users.
    “My feeling is it doesn’t need to be a blanket ban that’s going to hurt people like me,” Higgins concluded. “I bring a lot of business with my business. They don’t eat at my house. They eat at all the restaurants. They shop [locally]. It’s a boost to the economy here. I’ve been doing this for almost nine years. I’ve never had a single neighbor complain. I don’t have trash outside. I don’t have these problems. And none of the other hosts that do it the way I do it have these problems. So I would hope that before voting for a blanket ban you would do a little research if you haven’t already.”
    Beth Kraiman reinforced her husband’s views, stating, “This has been very disturbing over the last two years for me as a mother. There’s been some very strange people walking through our neighborhood and there’s been incidences that never happened before and that should not be happening in a community like ours.”
    She accused her neighbor, who she said has never lived in the house, of “[filling] his pockets with money. And now he’s figured out that there’s another way that he can make more money by renting it out to people who are coming through town. We moved to the community to be part of a neighborhood, and we if we had wanted to live next to a hotel, we would have moved next to a hotel, but this is what this man has turned his house into.”
    Responding to Higgins, Kraiman asserted, “There’s plenty of hotel options in the community. If someone’s coming here for a day or two or for a week, there’s plenty of other options besides moving into a house for a week.”
    Miquel Long sympathized with the Kraimans, but acknowledged, “Short-term rentals provide additional income, supplemental income, to people who may not have other resources besides their own house. And there is also a process of vetting the people that are coming into the house.”
    Dalimonte reiterated that the Village of Flower Hill prohibits leasing for a term of less than 90 consecutive days, and in Port Washington North it’s less than 180 consecutive days. In the villages of Lake success and Old Westbury it’s for no less than one year.
    “We’re talking about 30 days in the Town of North Hempstead,” said Dalimonte, who called on Building Department Commissioner John Niewender and asked him, “In the town of North Hempstead, are you allowed to rent a room in an owner-occupied house?”
    Councilman Robert Troiano interjected to say, “I think we have to be careful about asking him to make comments like that, that are really complicated. And I think there are a number of cases where it would be feasible for somebody to rent the room provided that all use the same kitchen, the same bathroom and there are no locks on doors. So rather than putting the commissioner in a position to state what some might think is the law—it’s not settled law, and we should be careful.”
    Dalimonte acknowledged Troiano’s points, and affirmed that “we did a lot of research on this. The town has worked very, very hard on this and I thank them for that. And so did your department (to Niewender).”
    Niewender referred to the conditions described by Kraiman, of an unoccupied house without the owner on premises and who rents it out for less than 30 days and stated, “That no longer is a single family home. It has to meet the criteria of what you just spoke of—hotel, boarding house, bed and breakfast. With that comes egress handicap facilities and fire sprinklers where appropriate. So you’re changing the use of that and it goes on to another item that you’re outside of your certificate of occupancy. To add to that, and maybe I’m overstepping here a little bit, but before anybody else comes up and starts to speak, there is liability involved in something like that.”
    The building commissioner cautioned that the certificate of occupancy for a single-family house might not allow for short-term rentals, and that boarding houses and long-term rental houses are regulated and inspected by his department.
    Nina Gordon said she checked Airbnb rentals in Great Neck and “I was amazed at the things that came up and [the owners] make no secret of it. They advertise their name, they put pictures of their house with the street number.”
    Gordon said she contacted Councilwoman Veronica Lurvey to look into the situation, adding, “When I was signed up to speak about this, I felt very strongly [in favor of banning]. And then I heard this woman Pat [Higgins] speak and I said, ‘Oh, there’s another side to this thing.’”
    She said it was reasonable to ask the town to enforce the law and sort out owner-occupied Airbnbs from those who are not.
    After a brief discussion, Dalimonte moved to continue the public hearing to Sept. 22 and it was unanimously approved.

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