Though municipal officials claim Secaucus doesn’t yet have a significant problem with short-term rentals, the town council introduced an ordinance at its June 26 meeting that would prohibit renting for 30 days or less.
“We don’t permit Airbnb here,” said Mayor Michael Gonnelli, referring to a popular online platform that allows residents to rent portions of their homes.
“We are concerned by how this broad and sweeping ban will hurt the local Secaucus residents who rely on home sharing for extra income, as well as small businesses that benefit from visitors,” said Liz DeBold Fusco, a spokesperson for Airbnb. “Airbnb supports common-sense regulation of home sharing, and that’s why we have worked with dozens of municipalities across the state to craft policy that fits both the needs of local government as well as those of our community — and we would be open to doing the same in Secaucus.”
The ordinance, according to Town Attorney Keri Ann Eglentowicz, is part of a multiple strategy to outlaw short-term rentals in Secaucus.
“We already have three things in place,” Eglentowicz said. “First, we have a continued CO (certificate of occupancy) requirement.”
This means that any change of occupant rental or ownership requires that a new CO be obtained, regardless of how long the residency is. This allows the town to know when people move in and out, and for how long.
Second, the town’s Bureau of Fire Prevention requires smoke and carbon monoxide detector inspections when people move out and before a new resident moves in. This is a second layer of protection against short-term rentals, because this also informs the town of unusual activity.
A new certificate for detectors must be obtained each time someone new moves into a residence, according to Eglentowicz.
The fire prevention inspectors monitor all rentals and respond to calls of concern from the public about possible illegal apartments.
Sometimes, homes that are approved for two-dwelling occupancy, add an apartment that the building is not zoned for.
To prevent this, the council previously passed an ordinance against unlawful residential units and other illegal housing.
While this was aimed at preventing and detecting illegal units, the ordinance also established a definition of what is considered a short-term rental, which is any residence that rents for less than 30 days.
The ordinance introduced on June 26 to ban short-term rentals adopts the definition of what the previous ordinance used.
“We do not think we have a problem with short-term rentals,” Eglentowicz, said. “We checked the listing and saw only two Airbnb rentals. But we want to make sure that we don’t have a problem in the future. This is a safety concern, and it is about quality of life.”
The ordinance says that “no person shall charge, demand or receive or accept any rents or other payment for the use or occupancy of any unlawful or illegal or short-term rental.”
The ordinance also outlaws “assistance by real estate agents, brokers or salespersons in short-term rentals.”
With new regulations in Jersey City limiting short-term rentals, Secaucus, which has access to New York City via numerous bus and rail lines, might have become a new hub for short-term rentals.
As with New York City, which also outlawed short-term rentals, Secaucus has scores of hotels from which the town gets fees.
After significant lobbying of state officials in the early 2000s, Secaucus won the right to impose a hotel tax. Under the previous law, only larger cities such as Atlantic City and Jersey City had been allowed. This was a significant issue for the town because hotels were being constructed, and tourists were flooding into the more than 3,000 hotel rooms, coming here because of how easy it is to get to Manhattan.
The hotel tax in Secaucus helps offset the police, fire, and ambulance service expenditures that hotels sometimes require.
Census data over the years has shown that while the population of the town is around 17,000, this quadruples when hotels are occupied.
Hotels may need ambulance services for sick or injured guests. They also may need police to handle unruly guests or those who need protection while staying or shopping in Secaucus.
While the town’s fire department is volunteer and may cost less than professional fire departments, the town has to provide firefighters with additional equipment and training to handle the kinds of calls big cities face, such as high-rise fires and other emergencies not typically faced by small towns like Secaucus. Police calls to hotels, false alarms, and medical emergencies require additional resources.
While hotels pay for these services through the hotel tax, short-term rentals, legal or illegal, do not. Short-term rentals compete with hotels and may take business away from hotels that help offset these costs.
A public hearing on the ordinance is scheduled for the July 23 town council meeting.
In other business, the council introduced an ordinance that would provide allowances for members of the Junior Firefighter Program.
Secaucus’s volunteer fire department has about 100 members in five companies. The Junior Firefighter Program helps promote interest among young people who might volunteer for the department in the future.
The council also introduced an ordinance that would modify an existing ordinance that designates parking meter zones and establishes fees for them. The modification would establish parking and charging options for electric vehicles.
For updates on this and other stories check hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Al Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org