In Defense of Airbnb Regulation and Knowing Who Is in Your Neighborhood

Observer 

In this era of heightened awareness and “see something, say something” directives, it’s wise for local communities to know if someone in town may be renting out their home or apartment through the proliferation of new short-term rental websites, such as Airbnb or FlipKey.

Essentially, these short-term rentals are creating hotels in neighborhoods that are zoned for residential dwellings, which, in turn creates issues of public safety and security in local communities.

Currently, these types of short-term rentals made available through transient space marketplaces are not regulated.

While this relatively new venture may seem like a cheap alternative to traditional hotels and motels, we’ve heard from many local officials and constituents who have legitimate concerns over this unregulated and burgeoning industry, including the inability to know who may be staying in their communities and their impact on the local quality of life.

On the other side of the coin, this lack of regulation also leaves consumers vulnerable because they have no way of knowing if the property they are renting is safe, up to code and insured.

With all this in mind, I introduced legislation recently that will create a regulatory mechanism to allow municipalities to license the short-term rental of a residential unit, through transient space marketplaces, while exempting seasonal rentals.

The intent of the bill is to balance the interests of a growing industry with the needs of homeowners and residents in our communities. We want to support and encourage new, innovative businesses, such as Airbnb, that make travel and tourism more accessible in our state. But just because a business is new does not mean it should be immune from oversight. We have oversight of traditional hotels, motels and other lodging accommodations. This is no different.

However, contrary to popular myth, this is not a one-size-fits-all approach. In fact, this approach may even help the industry because it provides an alternative for towns who might otherwise be considering banning this practice.

Currently, at least 18 municipalities in New Jersey are either looking to or have already banned short-term rentals. After speaking to mayors and council members in my district, I learned that these local governments banned the rentals because they did not know how else to control them. This legislation creates a road map so that a ban is not the only option. With this bill, municipalities can regulate transient rentals as they see fit.

While towns are free to carve out a policy that suits their needs, any ordinance they adopt must cover several areas of safety and security, such as requiring the registered host to be the owner or legal tenant of the unit; restricting registration to only one unit per building if it’s a multi-unit dwelling; requiring the property to have a minimum of $500,000 in liability insurance; prohibiting units that have any outstanding municipal code violations.

The legislation also ensures that towns will be fairly compensated by creating a $50 fee for registration, half of which would help municipalities offset administrative costs and the other half which would go towards the state’s affordable housing trust fund. There are currently a number of other similar registries in place, such as pet registries or apartment registries, like in my hometown of Englewood, proving this approach is doable.

While technological innovations and the seemingly endless offering of new smartphone apps have revolutionized the marketplace and simplified our lives in many ways, they also have a way of creating new, often unforeseen, dilemmas that beg our attention. Ultimately, our goal is not to stand in the way of marketplace demands, but to ensure that convenience and affordability can coexist with safety and security.

Valerie Vanieri Huttle represents New Jersey’s 37th legislative district in the Assembly. Huttle is the primary sponsor of A-4441, a bill that aims to regulate home sharing in New Jersey.