Staying ‘true to their word’

Jersey City Council waives some fees for short-term rental property registrations

Jersey City Council adjusts fees associated with short-term rental property registration.
Jersey City Council adjusts fees associated with short-term rental property registration.

It will cost less to register a short-term rental property in Jersey City, now that the City Council majority has adopted an ordinance amending the registration fees.

While short-term rental property owners will still need to pay $250 to register their properties, they will no longer be required to foot the bill for a Zoning Certificate of Compliance or an inspection because the registration fee of $250 will include these costs.

According to Councilman James Solomon, a sponsor of the ordinance, these fees including the cost of registering, amounted to more than $500, making Jersey City one of the most expensive cities to own a short-term rental unit.

Short-term rental properties, such as those available on Airbnb, were a hot-button issue last year as the council attempted to adopt new rules and regulations for the properties in an effort to help preserve housing for long-term tenants.

This spurred a public referendum on the November ballot with petitioners submitting 2,406 petitions with approximately 19,656 signatures against the new rules.

This launched campaigns for and against the referendum question, which eventually became the third most expensive ballot question in state history.

Ultimately, the residents voted in favor of the new restrictions, which included prohibiting short-term rentals for more than 60 days in properties where the owner does not live onsite, prohibiting short-term rentals entirely in buildings with more than four units, prohibiting renters from serving as short-term rental hosts, and requiring short-term rental owners register their properties with the city, among other regulations.

Unfair burden for taxpayers?

Councilman Michael Yun questioned the ordinance, stating that the Zoning Certificate of Compliance and inspection fees would be passed along to the general public, calling it unfair to taxpayers.

“Taxpayers in Jersey City will pick up the cost,” Yun said. “Is that fair? I don’t think so … Why waive the fees?”

Solomon said the ordinance amending the fees associated with registering was written in the interest of fairness.

He noted that in public discussions and meetings before the referendum was approved in November when he and his council colleagues were asked by residents how much it would cost to register, the answer was always $250.

“And then people started to register, and they were charged a $250 fee, but then they were assessed $100 for zoning, $150 for fire, and they reached out and said, ‘You told us the fee was $250, and now you are charging us $500. That’s not fair.’” Solomon said. “So this is simply being true to the word of the seven of us [who supported the referendum]when we said it would cost $250.”

“If we are charging people over $500 to register, keep in mind these are not business people, these are people doing it in their homes, that’s what the whole purpose of the ordinance was, and that would put us as the most expensive city of every city we looked at,” said Solomon. “We would have higher charges than every other city doing short-term rentals.”

Councilman Jermaine Robinson questioned if the fees could even be changed, because the ordinance establishing the registration fees was approved by public referendum.

According to Corporation Counsel Peter Baker, the registration fee is “locked in for three years,” but the fees for an inspection and Zoning Certificate of Compliance are not part of the ordinance itself, so they can be waived.

Robinson said while he wants to stay true to his word, he also wants to make sure the city isn’t losing money. He asked that the council revisit the fees for inspections and zoning compliance in the future after seeing how the ordinance works in its first year.

Solomon said in the future the city could look at the costs associated and adjust the fee up or down.

The council adopted the ordinance on Jan. 22 with a 7-2 vote.

Councilmen Richard Boggiano and Michael Yun voted against it.

Councilman Rolando Lavarro was absent.

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