Public safety officials endorse regulations on short-term rentals

The Yes and No campaigns on Jersey City's referendum question heat up

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Mayor Steven Fulop and public safety officials held a press conference to urge residents to vote in favor of more regulations on short-term rentals. They say they cause a potential safety hazard.
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Resident Criag Zehms urged his fellow residents to vote yes for more regulations on short-term rentals after the Airbnb property next to him had a gas leak.
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Mayor Steven Fulop and public safety officials held a press conference to urge residents to vote in favor of more regulations on short-term rentals. They say they cause a potential safety hazard.
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Resident Criag Zehms urged his fellow residents to vote yes for more regulations on short-term rentals after the Airbnb property next to him had a gas leak.

Public safety and elected officials joined forces to urge residents to vote ‘yes’ on Municipal Question 1 on the Nov. 5 ballot, which would uphold regulations on Airbnb properties and other short-term rentals like it.

Representatives of the Jersey City Fire Officers Association, the Uniformed Fire Fighters Association of Jersey City, the Jersey City Police Superior Officers Association, Jersey City Council, residents, and members of the Hotel Trade Council joined Mayor Steven Fulop to urge the public to vote yes, citing safety concerns they say the rentals pose.

A 2018 study by Johns Hopkins University researching Airbnb venues across the country shows that these properties lack minimum safety features like smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers.

According to the study, nationwide only 56 percent of Airbnb properties are equipped with carbon monoxide detectors and only 42 percent have fire extinguishers.

“We have significant concerns specifically for Airbnb use in multiple dwellings,” said  President of the Uniformed Fire Fighters Association of Jersey City Joseph Krajnik. “In a fire, every second counts, and having knowledgeable neighbors who know how many occupants live in a residence, and if someone is trapped or in need of rescuing greatly helps with our mission in saving lives.”

“All too often we encounter dangerous situations when responding to these calls where the residences are altered or subdivided, splitting a single unit to create multiple units, thus creating a maze-like structure and changing occupancy levels unknown to responding firefighters,” said President of the Jersey City Fire Office Association Peter Nowak.

Craig Zehms, who lives in the Van Vorst neighborhood, said he was afflicted with a terrible headache after the neighboring Aribnb property had a “poisonous” gas leak.

“They had turned on the gas fireplace that had not been hooked up to anything,” he said. “This was an entirely avoidable accident.”

His neighbor Lorraine Sperling said in the past six months she has had to help the fire department gain access to the property at least two times because of similar issues

To support the new restrictions, vote “Yes.” To remove the new restrictions, vote “No.”

According to the city’s public safety officials, short-term rentals cause quality-of-life issues and problems for law enforcement.

“Our officers also often respond to excessive noise complaints from late night parties hosted by short-term renters with no responsibility to the local neighborhood,” said President of the Jersey City Superior Officers Association Robert Kerns, adding there have been calls to house party’s in short-term rentals that have gotten out of hand, including one last year in which shots were fired.

“Jersey City won’t be manipulated by Airbnb’s money,” said Fulop. “They can send mailers every single day. They can spread lies and misinformation. We know our neighbors. We’ll be out there making sure that our neighbors understand that we are for commonsense and fair regulations to protect neighborhoods.”

Fulop said when the council first passed regulations on short-term rental properties in 2015 there were roughly only 300 units on Airbnb. That number has grown to almost 3,000.

According to the city’s prosecutor Jake Hudnut, the problems he sees in court primarily come from “fake hotels” and not single Airbnb units.

“To my surprise, when I took this job in July 2018, there are apartment buildings that have been purchased by outside companies in New York, and out of state, and they are running hotels through Airbnb,” Hudnut said. “Those are the problem people. Those are who we are looking to regulate.”

Graeme Zielinski, the spokesperson for Keep Our Homes, the group that seeks to have the new regulations repealed, said the press conference was a “scare tactic” to convince residents to ban Airbnbs.

“We are for sensible regulations, but this is an outright ban,” he said, noting several members of public safety are Airbnb hosts and that “no one wants unsafe conditions.”

“People deserve the ability to make ends meet,” he added.

“We have the utmost respect for organized labor, including the many members of labor unions who are hosts who will be hurt by Mayor Fulop’s short-term rental ban,” he said. “The short-term rental community simply wants to preserve the right of working families to responsibly share their homes and make ends meet, something that all unions should agree with. To Jersey City’s brave police officers and firefighters, we urge them to look closely at the facts, and join their colleagues who benefit from the short-term rental economy to stop the ban and Vote No on Municipal Question 1.”

For updates on this and other stories check hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Marilyn Baer can be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.