Saturday, January 26, 2019

Of Sidewalks and Airbnb: Part 2

Yesterday, Gossips reported on the discussion of sidewalks that took place at the Common Council Legal Committee meeting on Thursday. Today, we cover the committee's discussion of short-term rentals booked through Airbnb.

On Tuesday, HudsonValley 360 reported that Council president Tom DePietro had "tasked the Legal Committee to look into a moratorium on future, non-owner-occupied Airbnbs while the city works out a long-term solution to managing the number of short-term rentals." On Wednesday, Alderman John Rosenthal (Fourth Ward), who chairs the Legal Committee, opened the meeting by saying, "The Council is not going to do a moratorium on Airbnb," and explained that doing do would be "illegal and impossible." He went on say that Airbnb was "a factor driving perceptions of affordability" in Hudson, spoke of the "transient nature of Airbnb," acknowledged tourism as "factor and driver" in Hudson's economy but "not the only game in town," and noted that Columbia Memorial Health was the city's biggest employer.

City attorney Andy Howard told the audience that filled the Council Chamber--some opponents of Airbnb, some owners of Airbnb properties--that this was the first time any Council committee has taken up the issue of Airbnb. He explained there were "jurisdictions that have passed varying degrees of restriction" on Airbnb, noting that "some jurisdictions make a distinction between owner-occupied and non-owner-occupied." He also spoke of "issues of enforcement vis-à-vis the Fourth Amendment."

The most vocal opponent of Airbnb, Rebecca Wolff likened the negative impact on the community of Airbnb to a mining operation or an automobile manufacturer. She alleged that Airbnb was the "main driver of the scarcity of rental apartments" in Hudson and asserted that a short-term rental that was not owner-occupied was "essentially an illegal hotel."

Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward) echoed Wolff's assertion that Airbnb is causing a shortage of rental units in Hudson. She added a general indictment of gentrification when she said, "When people buy houses and turn them into Airbnb or single-family houses, it forces out residents who are here." Rafael Pimentel, who owns a property used for short-term rental, protested, "Nobody is talking about the fact that when we bought houses here they were slums."

Rosenthal blamed "decades of bad economic policy and bad government" for the housing problems now being experienced in Hudson and assured the audience, "Now there are people [in government] interested in good growth." He promised, "We're going to look at models that could be enforced." With regard to enforcement, Rosenthal acknowledged that the City was "resource starved."

Apparently seeking to establish some legal justification for instituting a moratorium or a ban, Howard asked if people have "experienced real nuisance issues with Airbnb." Earlier in the discussion, Peter Spear said his house shared a backyard with the Airbnb next door, and he considered it an invasion of his privacy to have strangers there. Nick Zachos, who lives on lower Union Street, said when he was in college in Oneonta people who moved there knew they were moving to a college town, but people had not moved to Hudson knowing it was a "wedding and party town." He complained about noisy groups of people leaving bachelor and bachelorette parties passing his house in the middle of the night on the way to their Airbnbs. 

Fourth Ward supervisor Linda Mussmann mentioned the fire at 260 State Street, which was being operated as boarding house booked through Airbnb, and complained that a year later the building was still not repaired. Wolff spoke of guests in the Airbnb next door to her house leaving doors open when they departed. Claudia Bruce related tales of guests trashing Airbnb accommodations. 

One interesting statistic that emerged from the discussion is that 82 percent of the Airbnb listings in Hudson are entire houses. This statistic comes from information provided by Airbnb at, where it also indicates that there are 291 active rentals in Hudson.
The statistics, however, are not exclusively for Hudson but for the entire geographic area defined by the 12534 zip code.
The conversation about short-term rentals in Hudson will continue.


  1. Say a person is using AirBnB to help pay their mortgage and astronomical local property/school taxes, and might lose their house without that income. That also would lead to displacement. This is just one example of how debates about gentrification often oversimplify the situation, with grandstanding taking precedence over data gathering and analysis.

  2. IMHO, the driving factor in rising rents is the extraordinarily high real estate taxes (the real estate tax and water and sewer burden on an apartment can range $400-$500/mo.), plus the fact that much of the housing was historically below standard and has required a lot of capital expenditure to bring up to standard. Also, the historical designation for many areas of the city (which I wholly support) also makes the cost of improvements more expensive than it would be otherwise. As Sam suggests, this is a complicated situation and blaming AirBnB for a lack of affordable housing is an over simplification. As an aside, I am not involved in any AirBnB's.

    In the last twenty years, Hudson has been transformed from a gritty, slum ridden former industrial city to a tony, high-priced small city. So I ask, which is worse, improved (albeit more expensive) housing or decrepit slums? My firm's policy has been not have large increases in rent for tenants in possession, but we try to recoup the expense of upgrading properties when apartments become vacant. There is no other way to maintain these VERY old buildings in decent shape.

  3. Thank you for this, Carole.

    I wanted to clarify the comment I shared at the meeting.
    I have two neighbors and a fence on both sides separating our yards.

    On one side of me I have neighbors that live in the building and Airbnb their downstairs. I have known them ever since I moved in.

    On the other side, is an Airbnb Host who does not live there and who as a total of 23 listings in the City. This means that I am having all sorts of awkward interactions with true strangers. I see more of the people who turn over the apartments than the actual owner.

    I have had nothing but friendly interactions with him, but I am left feeling as if I am already paying an Airbnb tax in the loss of real neighbors, and in invasive and awkward social interactions.
I think we need to acknowledge that there are issues and costs to Airbnb that may not rise to the level of nuisance but negatively impact quality of life.

    For me, having to make small talk with strangers on the neighbors back porch while sitting in my backyard with my daughter is a significant invasion of my privacy.

    For the record, I fully support Airbnb as an expression of the sharing economy that allows individuals to leverage their property. But there are limits. 

I also wanted to applaud John Rosenthal for how he ran the meeting. I appreciated that he addressed the public right up front, set clear expectations, and managed the crowd in an effective way that kept us all able to address a complicated situation together.
Perhaps most importantly, I appreciated the clear focus on learning and understanding and not rushing to conclusions, solutions and actions. I am excited by the drive to learn and better understand.

  4. Renting out a room or two in an occupied house is very helpful for those struggling to pay the bills. There is an Airbnb next to me that is often a headache for me, as the occupants come home drunk from some party or another and are loud and throw glasses and liquor bottles on my lawn, park in front of my house even though there is a driveway to use, talk on cell phones late at night outside my window, and other annoyances. If the owner were there, it wouldn't be that way. Sharing a house to meet expenses is one thing, but taking a house off the market to rent out on weekends is another entirely. It means that for every Airbnb not owner occupied, there is one less house for residents to live in, which drives up the cost of real estate. It's the classic supply/demand scenario.