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New law proposed in Ithaca would regulate short-term rental properties

Anna Canny

A new short-term rental law has been proposed to control the spread and frequency of properties being used as Airbnbs in the city of Ithaca. Brent Fox spoke with Tom Knipe and Megan Wilson from the Department of Planning and Development for the city of Ithaca.

Brent Fox: So what is this proposed law and what would it do?

Tom Knipe: The city of Ithaca is considering a short-term rental policy, which would regulate the use of houses and apartments as rentals for less than 90 days. We have a very strong short-term rental market in Ithaca with several hundred active listings on Airbnb and other platforms.

We're looking to take a balanced approach to regulating short-term rentals that would preserve housing supply and affordability in the long-term rental and homeownership markets, while allowing residents to earn income by renting out their primary residence. I'm sure Megan can go into some of the details of the draft regulation.

Megan Wilson: Sure. So we are looking at three different types of short-term rental permits right now. So the first type of permit would be a primary residence permit. So someone who either owns or rents their primary residence, we are currently considering that as a definition of about 185 days or more. They can rent out a room within their home, if they have an accessory apartment on the property somewhere there, they could rent it. Or if there's someone who travels a lot, but are there for more than half the year, they could rent their entire residence out.

The second type of permit is a seasonal permit, which we think will be very popular in the city given our strong student-rental market. So that would be up to 90 days. So someone might have a long term renter for most of the academic calendar year, for example, and then rent to short-term renters through the peak summer tourism month.

And then the final type of permit we're considering is an occasional permit. So this is someone who might want to rent their home only for a few days, or maximum of 14 days a year. We see this happen sometimes with homecoming weekend and graduation weekends that people will rent out, then that is just limited to 14 days for someone's residents.

BF: Why is the city of Ithaca looking to create kind of a balance by limiting short-term rental periods?

TK: Well, we've been discussing with council what the nature of the short-term rental market is, for a number of years now. And the direction we've received from council is to look at opportunities to reduce the number of units of houses and apartments that are in full-time use as short-term rentals. So that those units can then become available again for long-term residents. We have a very tight housing market in Ithaca with very low vacancy rates and high rates for both purchase and for rental of property. And I think we're doing everything we can.

This isn't certainly the silver bullet, but council has directed us to look at short-term rental policy that would put those types of units back into the rental market for long-term residents. But of course we also want to make sure that folks can benefit from the local tourism economy and lodging market. So certainly, we're not talking about a ban here. And so we've come up with some draft regulations. And we're looking to receive public comments, we've already started to receive some public comments. And we've also put together a survey. We want to hear from folks, what they think of the draft regulations as they've been developed so far. And then we'll bring that feedback and some options back to council early next year for their consideration.

BF: What's next for the proposed law and if it does pass, when would it go into effect?

MW: Once the law would go into effect, there is going to be a grace period, during which time we're going to work with short-term rental hosts to file for their applications for permits, get any necessary inspections and get up and running under the new system. So that it won't go into effect where someone might be in violation on day one after the council's vote. There will be time to get any requests, required information and documentation and to get your permit.

Second, we do know there will be some current short-term rentals that will not be able to continue operating under the proposed legislation. So for example, someone who has bought three or four properties that they then rent solely as short-term rentals will not be able to continue to do that if the legislation as currently drafted is approved. In that case, this will give those property owners time to find longer-term tenants for their property. So again, they'll have six months, which we are designing to include the peak rental time so someone will not miss that peak time for renting apartments here in the community and then potentially have vacancy so we'll have time to add it to our inventory of longer-term rentals for the folks that can't continue as a sole short-term rental property.

A community conversation will be held November 16 from 4-6 p.m. at the Tompkins County Public Library in Ithaca.

To give comment take the survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Ithaca_STR_policy

Has been working in public media since 2018. Was a multimedia producer at WNIT in South Bend, Indiana before making his way back to the New York.