Village of Lansing Airbnb Law

The Village of Lansing Planning Board began considering an amendment to Village law that would regulate short term rentals (STR) such as Airbnb.  The discussion was prompted by several complaints by neighbors of an Airbnb home on Oakcrest Road, and then by a request by the owners to host events there (that was not approved).  The discussion focused on whether short term rentals should be subject to licensing, should be restricted in terms of how many days per year they are allowed, how a potential law could reasonably be enforced, safety, and how Airbnb-type rentals impact residential neighborhoods and interact with Village zoning.

"The biggest issue is preserving the character of the neighborhood for the people who live there and also understanding that this rental model is beloved and profitable," said Planning Board member Carolyn Greenwald. "There's a lot of benefit, but you have to preserve those neighborhoods as well. So that is the balance. That is what this is really about."

Monday's discussion was based on an email that Greenwald had sent to all board members,summarizing the pros and cons of regulating hosted and unhosted STRs.   She laid out the pros and cons of restricting STR activity based on potential adverse impact on neighbors, adverse impact on the neighborhood, and the adverse impact on housing stock, and floated some options for being mindful of unhosted STR hosts already operating in the Village.

"Generally speaking," she wrote, "HSTR is less problematic and is often unregulated or regulated with lesser restrictions.  In a HSTR noise and parking complaints are presumably held in check by the on-site presence of the owner.  There is less or no impact on available housing stock since the house is owner-occupied.  The pending Town of ithaca legislation impacts only USTR.  The vast majority of STR, especially in terms of monetary gain, is USTR.

In 2016 the Tompkins County Legislature amending the County's Home Occupancy Tax Law, to change the law's definition of the term 'hotel'.  It included Airbnb rentals in the mix of rentals that are liable to pay the county room tax.  Municipalities within the County, including the neighboring Town of Ithaca, have also sought to regulate short term rentals.  The Town of Ithaca is considering requiring Airbnb hosts to obtain a short term rental license, and limiting the number of days an Airbnb in the Town may be rented.

Part of the discussion was the very basic of how much regulation the Village should impose.  Planning Board Chair Lisa Schleelein provided a preliminary list  of the kinds of restrictions other municipalities have imposed or considered when regulating STRs in their communities.

"If it's less than so many days. Should it be licensed? Does it need to be licensed?" asked Schleelein. "If one of the concerns is safety number of days is irrelevant. Um, so, you know, what is our objective? I guess, what are we really trying to do?   If we're going to make safety becomes the primary issue and it doesn't matter what was one day or a hundred days and you know, you just want to be sure that they have certain carbon monoxide detectors, smoke detectors, all this stuff."

Greenwald added that short term rentals where the owner is present during the guests' stay rarely causes the kinds of problems the Oakcrest neighbors complained of.  She floated the idea of not licensing hosted short term rentals, but said there are problems with regulating unhosted, but not hosted. 

"The problem in terms of whether you regulate hosted versus unhosted is when you go to seek compliance," she said. "It might be better to have the regulations for both in terms of just registration and then maybe none of the requirements for hosted. Hosted is only you're hosting. You don't have those same limitations as unhosted. If it's not hosted properly you could theoretically impact the housing stock and also the feel of the neighborhood if it's hosted."

The Oakcrest neighbors complained claimed that most rentals at the location were unhosted, and objected to the noise, parking, and unruly behavior by renters.

"So you have good actors and bad actors and bad actors aren't going to do it anyway," Schleelein said. "You have to establish something at least I think you just had that demonstrated. We have some people who are pretty unhappy with their situation with their neighbor, so it's important that you have something out there."

In the past several months the Planning Board heard multiple complaints by the Oakcrest Road neighbors, but also heard the owner's point of view at two separate meetings.  Greenwald strongly advocated Monday for encouraging all stakeholders' input before going too far in crafting the law.

Planning Board member Jim McCauley questioned the value of Airbnbs versus hotels, but Greenwald and Schleelein argued that there are many benefits to having them in the Village.  Greenwald said that people visiting their children at college will stay wherever they can get a room, but tourists may be influenced by the kinds of short term rentals available in one area or another, favoring those destinations that do have Airbnbs.  Schleelein said that everyone in the County benefits by having short term rentals here.

"We all benefit," she said. "They do pay taxes on stuff. They go to the grocery store and then they go out to restaurants and so it just creates more restaurants that are healthy for us to go in as well. I have to say that when I travel these days, I try to go to an Airbnb because you're just so much more comfortable."

The Board agreed to share thoughts via email or a Google Document for discussion at future meetings.