Airbnb rolls out new tools as towns wrangle with regulation

Business. Home sharing platform Airbnb rolls out new tools to help keep the peace in communities still struggling to figure out how the short-term rental company fits in.

26 Dec 2019 | 07:18

As towns continue to struggle to figure out how Airbnb fits in, the home sharing platform says it’s rolling out new tools to help keep the peace among neighbors.

An attorney representing residents opposed to the short-term rental company’s presence in their communities, however, isn’t entirely sold on the new initiatives.

Airbnb Spokesperson Liz DeBold Fusco said the company is not opposed to regulation, per se.

“That’s something that we generally support,” she said. “There is a path forward for regulation that can include both protecting the ability of people to share their homes, but still address any local concerns of the community.”

The new tools were developed with neighbors who have concerns about “party houses” in mind, DeBold Fusco said.

For nuisance situations in need of real-time support, Airbnb recently debuted the Neighborhood Support Line.

DeBold Fusco said that issues that require immediate attention can now be reported directly by neighborhoods and communities by calling the support line at (855) 635-7754.

Airbnb agents will work with local law enforcement, as well as hosts and guests, to address the problems being reported, she said.

“We wanted to make sure, when there is a concern or a safety issue, that neighbors feel they can get in touch very quickly with us and that they know that it will be taken very seriously,” DeBold Fusco said.

Attorney Alfred V. Acquavivia, who represents several Greenwood Lake residents who object to short term rentals, said he’s not exactly sure how the support line would work.

“So, if someone calls, what response are they going to have?” he said. “Think about it – they’re going to call the police on themselves?”

When it comes to neighborhood quality of life, Acquavivia said he thinks there needs to be a combination approach of regulation and enforcement.

“Obviously, the first step is always to try to prevent the problem from occurring,” he said. “But, in the event that harm happens, you want to have rapid response to take care of it. I don’t see it happening without some sort of blending of those two aspects.”

In Vernon, questions over the draft of a short-term rentals ordinance led the Township Council to table it during its meeting Dec. 9 until after the new council is seated in January.

According to the draft of the ordinance, short-term rentals would be allowed in condominiums where the association bylaws allow them, single family residences, a unit in a two-family residence, no more than one unit in a multi-family residence and no more than one room in a single-family residence, where the room shares a common kitchen and bathroom with the occupant.

In all cases, the home must be the owner’s principal residence. In the case of two-family homes, the owner must make the other unit his principal residence.

Councilwoman Sandra Ooms questioned why the ordinance would restrict short-term rentals to the owner’s primary residence.

It also would require property owners to have a short-term rental permit, which would be valid for a year from its date of issuance.

Council President Jean Murphy said the ordinance was sent to the Land Use Board and sent back without comment.

Township Council members in neighboring West Milford voted 5-1 Dec. 4 to regulate short-term rental properties, including those operating as Airbnbs.

Councilman Lou Signorino was the only dissenting vote.

The ordinance requires property owners to get a $500 per year permit to operate the properties as short-term rentals that consist of 1-30 days.

Many of these types of rentals are part of the Airbnb network.

As of July, there were about 188 home owners in the township renting rooms and homes through Airbnb, according to the company.

Those homes, which account for around half of those listed by the service in Passaic County, are located mostly in Greenwood Lake and Upper Greenwood Lake.

Objectors said the council should require a background check of the people renting the houses, and look into a limit on the number of guests allowed to stay.

There is concern that home values are decreasing because of the rentals and a diminished quality of life for residents is resulting.

The regulations approved, however, did not address some of the requests made by those seeking the regulations, such as requiring a minimum rental of at least five days.

The ordinance does require fire and health inspections, as well as someone named as an “agent” for the owner that can get to the property within 24 hours if there is a problem.

Property owners must get approval from condominium associations and let lake associations know that they are applying for a permit, according to the ordinance.

It also allows the zoning officer to revoke the permit if there are several violations of township ordinances reported.

The council has been debating the issue for about a year and worked with the Planning Board to write the regulations.

Mike Zummo and Charles Kim contributed to this report.

Airbnb rental prices can vary widely. For example, a room in a bed and breakfast in Vernon, New Jersey currently lists for $170 for two adults for New Year's Eve, while a cottage in Greenwood Lake, New York is going for $55 for the same date and number of people. On the New Jersey side of Greenwood Lake, a guesthouse in West Milford is priced at $80 for two adults to stay to ring in the new year.
Think about it – they’re going to call the police on themselves?”
- Alfred V. Acquavivia