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Kent Considers Regulating Short-Term Rentals

By Holly Crocco

Short-term rental properties are both popular and unpopular.

With the increasing number of homeowners opting to rent out their properties for short-term guests through internet sites such as Airbnb and Vrbo, the Town of Kent is considering regulating this type of business.

“We’ve had some issues with short-term rentals,” said Building Inspector Bill Walters at the Dec. 5 Kent Town Board meeting.

In 1985, the section of town code for boarding houses was removed, so short-term rentals haven’t been allowed for quite some time, according to Walters. However, that hasn’t stopped people from renting out their properties – much to the dismay of neighbors who don’t like having strangers coming and going from their neighborhoods, oftentimes bringing noise and other raucous with them.

“We’ve got people walking across neighbors’ properties,” said Walters. He explained that since most people rent these properties for specials occasions or vacation, they are often large groups, sometimes drinking or staying outside late at night.

He said some of the properties for rent in the area even advertise the local beaches to attract renters.

Walters said he’s heard from residents who would like to see the town regulate short-term rentals in town, whether it be a ban or a process that allows for short-term rentals, but requires permitting and registration.

Pawling and Putnam Valley are among the nearby municipalities that have opted to regulate this business.

“I believe if we are going to go down that road, Airbnbs should be inspected annually like any other apartment, like any hotel,” said Walters. “There should be some type of registration, a special use permit, renewable fees…”

He said the occupancy load should be posted on the building, per the building department and the board of health based on the bedroom count, so septic systems are not overtaxed around the lake.

Further, it would need to be determined who is going to issue the special use permits, who will be paid for that workload and how it will be financed, among other details. “We should at least have a conversation about it,” said Walters.

Councilman Christopher Ruthven asked what the recourse is for residents who don’t want to see their neighbors rent out their properties short-term and be subject to the behavior Walters referenced.

“I see the benefit of having it being permitted, where you’re going through a registration and a process, but I also would feel bad for what you’re talking about, and even if we go through the permit process, there’s no way to prevent that type of thing,” he said.

“There’s probably a revenue-generating side to it through the permit process and everything, but there’s also a large cost for inspections and complaints and everything else that would have to be covered by the fees,” continued Ruthven.

Walters said, currently, when a complaint is lodged, a violation is issued and the property owner must go to court.

Town Counsel Nancy Tagliafiero belongs to the firm that helped draft policy for nearby Pawling.

“Having the permit system in place is a way to have somebody be accountable, because sometimes people who don’t use it as their primary residence, they don’t’ know what’s going on,” she said. “At least we have somebody that’s accountable if there’s something going on there that shouldn’t.”

Kent Police Chief Kevin Owens said most complaints from neighbors come after the fact, from people noticing strangers walking around or moving garbage cans to the wrong properties.

“We have had a couple that we had to respond to, like the one in South Lake – I think we had to go there twice,” he said. “So it’s a matter of some bad actors creating most of the problems. Most of the people, I think if you did do a permit, would be responsible and probably if we did have their names and could refer back to, that would be a lot easier.”

Stephan Beffre of South Lake Road said one of his neighbors rents out their property for short-term rentals.

“It’s not a big issue, but it’s a compounding issue,” he said. “And there’s things where, you’re not going to call the police over every single time. But all of our neighbors are really fed up… I’ve got a small parcel of lakefront. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked out the window and there are people out there sitting on my chairs, having a beer.”

Further, Beffre said there are smaller nuisances, such as people speeding on the street, or littering.

He suggested the town put a mechanism in place for people to file a complaint for a certain rental, and if that property gets three strikes, then their special-use permit is pulled.

“I use Airbnbs, too,” said Beffre. “I get it. I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to having Airbnb allowed through a permitted system.”

Resident Kathy Doherty asked whether these renters are allowed to access the beaches, since they would need a guest pass from the property owner, and pointed out that they don’t know the rules and regulations of the park districts.

“I think what you’re going to have to weigh is the enforcement toward the money that you’re going to make on it,” she said. “It may not be worth it.”

Discussion on the matter is expected to continue.


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