Airbnb regulation debate continues

| 17 Jul 2019 | 12:59

Proposed rules and regulations for residents who want to earn money by renting their homes to visitors for short periods continue to be a subject of debate in West Milford.
There are about 188 home owners in the township renting rooms and homes through the online Airbnb service, according to that company.
Those homes, which account for around half of those listed by the service in Passaic County, are located mostly at Greenwood Lake and Upper Greenwood Lake.
The businesses, part of what is being called the "gig economy," are new and unregulated.
A New Jersey bill with controls is currently being circulated among the state legislators.
A local regulating ordinance, prepared by the West Milford Planning Board, was recently rejected by the Township Council, and was returned to the board for revisions that have since been made.
The second prepared draft is now in the hands of Township Attorney Fred Semrau for study.
If it gets his approval, the council will have a proposed ordinance before it for review and, if it meets its approval, the council will introduce it formally at a township council meeting.
Before a vote takes place for the council to approve or reject the ordinance as published, the council members and the general public will have an opportunity to speak about it at a public hearing.
Councilwoman Ada Erik has already said at a council meeting that there are still parts of the revised ordinance she does not like, and more changes are needed.
She said that although the proposed law was changed after a large amount of public input, it still does not protect the rental owner or the opposing neighbors, and it was not yet ready for adoption.
Meanwhile, if someone has an address where they feel a rental is violating current township laws, they should reach out to Mayor Michele Dale and the administration and supply information about their concerns.
The township zoning officer will then be directed to go to the property and investigate the complaint, Dale said.
Councilwoman Marilyn Lichtenberg questioned if the rental regulation form currently being used in the Township Clerk’s Office could be changed to reflect that it is not an Airbnb form.
Dale said she would investigate Lichtenberg’s suggestion with Semrau.
She said if the form can be changed, and the council is in agreement to do so, she would see that the requested change in the current rental form is made. The council members will check to see how the form reads and the subject will be brought back for discussion if they choose to do so, Dale said.
A Greenwood Lake woman who has been participating with the Airbnb rentals, said she was issued a court summons as an alleged law violator, and hired an attorney to protect her interests.
That case was eventually dismissed, the woman said.
A Pinecliff Lake man whose cabin is among the short term rentals listed on Airbnb sites also was upset at receiving a court summons and said he was unable to see why it was issued by the zoning officer.
He said he could not figure out what he did wrong, and is still not sure why there was action to shut his operation down.
He said he grew up in the township and felt he was also helping the community with tourism and business for local stores.
A mother of twins who has an Airbnb said she was summoned to court and went there four times after hiring an attorney for $10,000 to protect herself, filed a hard copy of her rental form and the case was dropped by the judge.
Dale said both she and Semrau were not familiar with the zoning officer’s action to issue court summonses for alleged Airbnb zoning violations.
She said his job is to enforce zoning laws.
She said that she will look into what happened with Acting Administrator Robert Casey.
Dale also said she will reach out and investigate what laws are already in effect.
On the internet sites where the Airbnb houses are shown, the owners have listed house rules to protect their property.
Among the regulations often seen are, no smoking, no pets, adults required with anyone under 21, no parties, and no people other than the renters are allowed in the house.
Attorney Alfred V. Acquavivia, who represents several Greenwood Lake residents who object to short term rentals, attended a recent council meeting with several of his clients.
Objectors say the council should require a background check of the people renting the houses, and look into a limit on number of guests allowed to stay.
There is concern that home values are decreasing because of the rentals and a diminished quality of life for residents is resulting.
The question was raised as to whether residents can do anything they want and make money on their property.
Objectors questioned how council members would feel if a facility was opened next door to their homes.
The people who have rented local homes are also heard from on the websites.
The posts are filled with praise of the township’s open space beauty, and discuss the cleanliness and great hospitality of hosts where they stayed.
Many are from Manhattan, according to the posts.