The West New York Board of Commissioners banned short-term vacation rentals of 30 days or less at their Jan. 18 meeting. Officials said the measure is in response to complaints from residents about guests using Airbnb, the popular short-term rental listing service.
Airbnb allows people to rent a room or an apartment in a private building for one night or more. Property owners have made extra money renting out their units, but in some local towns, officials have said guests have caused security and noise concerns. Hotel lobbying groups have also complained about various aspects of the service.
A recent analysis from the Hotel Trades Council claimed Airbnb listings have increased New York City’s median rent by $380 annually and removed between 7,000 and 13,500 housing units from the market.
Neighboring towns Union City and North Bergen have also adopted ordinances in the last few years regulating short-term rentals.
West New York’s ordinance is an effort to preserve the town’s limited housing stock, officials say, given that it is only 1.3 square miles and has an estimated 54,000 residents. When people rent apartments for short periods, that means those apartments aren’t available for longer-term residents.
At the meeting, five local property owners who use Airbnb urged the board to better regulate the rentals, as opposed to banning them outright.
They said Airbnb is a good source of income and allows them to afford their expensive property taxes. They also said they haven’t gotten any complaints. (Property owners in Union City made similar comments in 2016, when commissioners there voted to increase penalties for violating a preexisting ordinance banning short-term rentals.)
Mayor Felix Roque and the commissioners signaled they would be open to specific regulations down the line, but needed to respond to resident complaints now by banning short-term rentals.
“Thank you for educating me a lot about Airbnb,” Roque told the hosts, after they spoke. “And there might be a way, down the road, that we could sit down and try to make this a reality for West New York. I saw the bad part of Airbnb. Now, we’re seeing the other side. I would love to revisit this, as soon as I get more information.”
The law goes into effect 20 days after its passing, or around Feb. 7.
A search for Airbnb listings in West New York on Tuesday, Jan. 30, showed more than a dozen results, ranging from studios for $40 a night to entire townhouses for $450 a night.
The other side
West New York native Christopher Appelgren said at the meeting that he struggles to pay property taxes on his family’s house in town, which he purchased 11 years ago from his father. He began hosting Airbnb users to compensate.
“I have to say, it’s been an incredible help for my family,” Appelgren told the commissioners, during the ordinance’s public hearing section. “I think that instead of banning Airbnb, maybe we can look at a solution that can help the town.”
He floated the idea of adding an additional tax on those renting their properties to Airbnb users: “It would alleviate the property taxes for the rest of the town, which cost a lot,” he said.
Jersey City took a similar tactic in 2015, when it adopted an ordinance mandating that people using short term rentals pay the city’s six percent hotel tax.
Despite West New York’s small size, Appelgren believes there is a market for Airbnb on Boulevard East near the waterfront, and that he doesn’t see the service affecting other areas of town.
“What I do see is a lot of people who have to make means with what little bit they have,” Appelgren said. “Everyone in my family is doing something extra outside of their work. They do Uber, they do some kind of sales, anything to survive.”
Fellow host Sangeeta Ron spent years traveling and staying in short-term rentals. She wants others visiting West New York to have similar nomadic adventures.
“I wanted to bring this experience to other people outside, to experience this beautiful town of West New York,” she said. “I know we’ve heard one side of the story. But the other side of the story is, a lot of people are travelers.”
Ron added that all of her guests have been respectful of the town, and that they contribute to local businesses with their dollars. Airbnb has also allowed her to employ local cleaning ladies for her property, she said.
“I’ve hosted 80 plus people over the past two years,” said property owner Ilan Housner. He claimed he is what Airbnb calls a “superhost,” meaning 80 percent of a host’s guests who leave reviews give 5-stars. “The large majority of reviews that we get say that, ‘We love the quiet town of West New York, to come home and return to.’ ”
In response to talk of noise complaints, Housner said that “I have not experienced that once.”
He said that Airbnb hosts verify ID and have a reviewing process to filter out unruly users.
“I never really knew of West New York until Airbnb,” said host Chris Leuer. “So I decided to purchase a home here. I’ve invested a lot of money into my home. My property taxes have increased probably 20 to 30 percent because of the renovations that I’ve done.”
Leuer suggested a cap on the number of Airbnb hosts in town.
Elizabeth Guillen also purchased a house in town. However, her job did not pay enough to cover its costs, until she found Airbnb.
“I’ve never had a problem with anyone I’ve rented to,” Guillen said. “I’ve rented to family, friends. I’m very happy to help single mothers in the community by employing them to work [home maintenance] in between check-ins and check-outs.”
“I would love to revisit this, as soon as I get more information.” — Felix Roque
Those who oppose Airbnb
A few people backed the ordinance at the meeting. Condo owner K. Elliott said she was having issues with Airbnb guests squeezing multiple people into their rentals, another common complaint against the service.
“You get folks coming in for a weekend, or week,” Elliott said. “Maybe they actually bring the two or three people they say they’re going to bring. Or maybe, in that 300-square foot apartment, they cram 10 people, or 15 people, because all their friends want to come for the game.”
She admitted that “The people who stay in short term rentals–they’re not all terrible people. But do they care? Hell no, they don’t care! They’re on vacation.”
“West New York is an easy target for Airbnb because we’re so close to the Big Apple, and there are a lot of high-rise buildings,” said another resident, Linda. “It unstabilizes the living environment.”
“You all seem very dedicated and passionate about it, and you’re all very committed to the individuals that you bring into town,” said Commissioner Cosmo Cirillo to the hosts, before casting a “yes” vote for the ban. But he said the ordinance is “about the quality of life for the residents here in town. This isn’t the end of the road for this discussion.”
According to Cirillo, code enforcement officers from the town’s building department building will investigate any possible violations of the ordinance. Violators would be subject to a $500 fine the first time, and $1,000 fines for each subsequent violation.
Those convicted of violating the ordinance in a criminal or civil case will have to reimburse the town and other participating law enforcement agencies their full investigative costs and reimburse all illegally obtained rental revenue to the town.
Hannington Dia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org