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Columbia County, Hunter look into tax on short-term rental

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    Columbia County is considering impose a tax on short-term rentals, such as those listed on web platforms like Airbnb, while Hunter, in Greene County, is seeking to take control of a market that Hunter officials say works on the fringe of local zoning laws.
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    There are nearly 300 Airbnb listings in Hudson including this unit on upper Warren Street.
September 26, 2018 09:37 pm Updated: September 27, 2018 04:19 pm

Columbia County is considering imposing its own tax on short-term rentals such as Airbnb, while Twin County governments seek to control the booming market.

Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murell formed a subcommittee to discuss the possibility of the county imposing a tax on short-term rentals. The subcommittee had its first meeting Monday.

The supervisors discussed how to proceed with creating a tax and contracting with a company that provides municipalities with resources to implement and enforce rules on short-term rentals.

“It’s going to be interesting, because it is all over the board with what is out there,” county Tourism Department Administrator Ann Cooper said. “I do not know how many short-term rentals are out there.”

The subcommittee got statistics from this past summer as far as short-term rentals in the county advertised on Airbnb.

n Columbia County received 14,000 guest arrivals from May 25 through Sept. 3, an increase from last summer’s number of guests to the county — 11,900. Most of the guests are from New York City, according to the report.

n More than 360 people in Columbia County rented their homes, an increase from 310 last summer. Hosts, as they are called, made more than $2.5 million this summer renting their homes, with the typical host making $4,847.

Only counties and cities can impose lodging taxes on short-term rentals, according to state law.

Hudson’s 4 percent lodging tax, which includes residential short-term rentals such as those advertised on sites like Airbnb, took effect in June 2017. The tax is similar to a sales tax with customers paying the renters.

Taxing residential rentals listed on platforms such as Airbnb poses problems as more platforms pop up, which could force a tax on renters, something Murell said he wants to avoid.

The committee is considering a possible contract with a company called Host Compliance, which provides resources to municipalities to impose rules and taxes on short-term rentals, including monitoring listings on multiple platforms.

“There are cross-listings between different platforms,” said Chatham Town Supervisor Maria Lull, a member of the subcommittee. “This has impacted the hotel and motel businesses, and probably the selling market as well.”

The subcommittee decided to look at Dutchess County, which collects a 4 percent bed tax on short-term rentals, and Ulster County, which signed a tax agreement with Airbnb last year, to decide how to proceed with imposing its own tax on short-term rentals.

Chatham is in the process of changing its zoning code to require permitting for all short-term rentals advertised on online platforms. The town scheduled its second public hearing Wednesday night at Tri-Village Fire House 111 county Route 13, to discuss the proposed zoning changes.

“In a town like this neighbors expect to see neighbors,” Lull said. “We’ve had a lot of complaints about people who have rented houses who are not the best of neighbors. We need to hold the owners accountable.”

The proposed zoning changes outline a distinction between occasional short-term rentals — a residential house owned by a Chatham resident or second homeowner and used for lodging no more than six times per year for fewer than 30 consecutive nights by guests for a fee — and a commercial short-term rental, defined as a commercial business in a residential house used for temporary lodging by guests for fewer than 30 consecutive nights by any one individual.

For commercial long-term rentals the owner of the house must occupy it while visitors are present.

hunter public hearing

A section of the town of Hunter’s comprehensive plan calls for establishment of a budget for economic development initiatives and seek funding for them including working with Greene County to explore a bed tax. It would be applied to all lodging including bed and breakfasts and short-term rentals such as Airbnbs and it would fund marketing and economic development initiatives, according to a draft of the plan.

The proposed bed tax was discussed at a public hearing on the comprehensive plan held Tuesday at the Mountaintop Library in Tannersville.

The plan calls for controlling short-term rentals so an adequate and affordable supply of long-term rentals remain available but the larger issue is a lack of good-paying jobs, Felicia Reali said, adding AirBnBs promote a living wage. She owns a vacation rental in Haines Falls with her husband Ernie.

“Sixty percent of our residents have to commute off the mountaintop,” she said. “The girl that helps me clean the houses, I pay her $20 an hour for housekeeping, where else can she make that money?”

Airbnbs bring in younger, tech-savvy visitors and helps to preserve local homes, Felicia said, adding the mountaintop has had issues in the past with blighted and vacant homes.

“I want people who are going to appreciate the area. I send them to local businesses,” Felicia said. “Your house has to look great. That’s great for the area.”

Residents who rent their homes to visitors should be subject to the same regulations as a hotel and pay sales taxes, Washington Irving Inn owner Stefania Jozic said, adding health and building department inspectors should see short-term rentals.

“We all have to be equal if we want to run the business,” she said. “I wasn’t planning to speak, but I got fired up.”

Issues surrounding Airbnbs have emerged such as having between 30 and 40 people staying in a five bedroom home, Jozic said.

“For some people they’re great, for some people they have a problem,” Jozic said.

A proposed bed tax will negatively affect business and if it’s enacted it should include all lodging options and not signal out short-term rentals, Ernie Reali said.

“The entire Hunter Mountain hotel pays that and if every single person paid it, then it’s an even playing field,” he said. “You can’t selectively tax people,”

The law needs to be clarified in the plan because bed taxes come from the county level, not the local level, Community Planning & Environmental Associates consultant Nan Stolzenberg said.

“If people were thinking that the town would be able to do its own bed tax, we need to clarify that it’s really supporting a broader bed tax,” she said.

the digital application reality

Gallatin Town Supervisor John Reilly, a member of the subcommittee, looked up AirBnBs at the subcommittee meeting and found 64 short-term rental listings in Gallatin at that moment.

“We have received complaints about four buildings bought commercially with the sole purpose of renting to groups of people short-term,” Reilly said. “They have outdoor bars and speakers for bachelor and wedding parties.”

Gallatin does not have zoning for these properties, Reilly said.

“The reality is, the ease of use of these applications, has made purchasing a house and renting it at attractive nightly rates a way to remotely own a bed-and-breakfast or small lodging house while avoiding all the on-site hosting, zoning and safety regulations that typically go along with that ownership,” Reilly said Tuesday. “This is our new digital application reality and we have to adapt zoning and compliance in a way to deal with it without trying to interfere with property rights and with a careful hand to those folks taking advantage of the technology in a positive and productive fashion.”