Bills Would Regulate Short-Term Home Rentals in New Jersey

Briana Vannozzi, NJTV News 

“We had examples of party house situations here in Fort Lee, consumption of on-street parking. In today’s day and age you want to know who’s living in your neighborhood,” said Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich.

Sokolich says constituents living next door to Airbnb hosts have been inundating his phone line with complaints.

The short-term home rental service is booming in New Jersey. And neighbors in small-town suburbs say it feels a bit like having a hotel outside their house.

“We have millions of people that go through our streets on literally a weekly basis. We’re not trying to find out and know about each and every one of them, but we certainly want to know about the ones that are sleeping in our neighborhoods,” Sokolich said.

“So what we came up with was to create a statewide model so that municipalities could create a registry and the registry would be for the host to go into the municipality and say that they’re going to rent their homes,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle.

Several other mayors from towns in Huttle’s district aired similar concerns leading her to sponsor legislation aimed at regulating the industry.

“It provides a road map for municipalities to see A, who is coming into their neighborhoods and B, if they’d like to continue to have Airbnb exist in some of these neighborhoods,” Huttle said.

“We think cities and towns need to have the flexibility to enter into regulations that make sense for them. Assemblywoman Huttle’s bill would create a top down approach where if a town decided to regulate they would have to do so in a specific way. And we just don’t think taking away the power from cities and towns in the Garden State makes sense,” said Airbnb Northeast Policy Director Andrew Kalloch.

But Huttle says that she hopes her bill will act as an incentive for municipalities to allow short-term rentals instead of banning it all together. The legislation doesn’t apply to seasonal or long-term rentals.

“This legislation is not a one size fits all. It certainly allows the municipalities to create their own guidelines, their own ordinances, their own penalties,” she said.

According to Airbnb, the company does a strong business in New Jersey. Last year alone there were 257,000 short-term rentals generating more than $50 million.

“People have a right that if they bought a home in a residential area, they assume that it’s a residential area. With the Airbnb model, you have no idea whether your neighbor or the house down the street becomes an investor model which is now a transient rental. At the very least they should have safeguards,” said Joe Simonetta, executive vice president of the New Jersey Hotel and Lodging Association.

A companion bill moving through Trenton is seeking to tax Airbnb rentals with the same surcharges as hotels and motels to level the playing field.

“Airbnb supports collecting taxes from our communities across the country and around the world. We’re already doing so in 220 jurisdictions including Jersey City,” Kalloch said.

But all parties agree the struggle is finding a middle ground — allowing property owners to make money, while ensuring everyone is safe.