SARATOGA SPRINGS — When the movie “Paint” was filmed in the city last year starring actor Owen Wilson, the production directed most of its lodging dollars to Airbnb, supervisor Tara Gaston said worriedly.
“There were about 36 Airbnbs they booked – not that many nights in a hotel,” said Gaston, who used the film production tour as an example of the need to create equity for the industry. hotel business taxed and regulated locally. the spa town centered on tourism.
Local landlords who rent through Airbnb, VRBO and Home Away are essentially small businesses, Gaston said, that aren’t subject to the same occupancy tax or inspection rules.
“It’s not a level playing field, especially for those who are doing it more as a business venture rather than renting space in their home,” she said.
To address the subject, Gaston is organizing a public forum on February 17 at 5:30 p.m. in the city center.
The forum follows Airbnb’s release of annual data showing its hosts in Saratoga Springs earned more than $12 million last year, a staggering 83% increase from 2019.
Other than the presumed ripple effect of visitors frequenting local restaurants and shops, the city gets none of that money from occupancy taxes.
Short-term and overnight rentals are exempt from the 1% Saratoga County Occupancy Tax imposed on vacation homes, hotels, and motels.
In addition to this, Saratoga Springs imposes a 5% occupancy tax on vacation homes, hotels, and motels.
The exemptions for short-term rentals are due to the fact that Saratoga County is one of two counties in New York that is limited by state law to applying occupancy tax to accommodations. three units or less, County Treasurer Drew Jarosh said.
Last year, the Saratoga Springs City Council passed a resolution to change the law through home rule, so it could impose occupancy taxes on properties with three units or less.
Darryl Leggieri, president of Discover Saratoga, which is also concerned about the impact of short-term rentals on the local hospitality industry, said the organization supports a review of the hotel‘s occupancy tax law. county that would require customers to use online sharing platforms to pay the same taxes as hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts.
“Requiring short-term rentals to pay the same taxes as the rest of the industry would improve the advancement of tourism, while supporting local infrastructure and services,” he said. “We can reinvest this money in our destinations, to attract more visitors. And it’s not a tax on the local owner. It’s a tax on visitors. Sometimes it gets lost.
Jarosh said he was sensitive to concerns about short-term rentals over the past six years, when Airbnb began offering counties a voluntary agreement in which the company would collect local occupancy taxes and remit them to residents. municipalities.
“We realized that we couldn’t sign this agreement with Airbnb, because of this state law that prevents us from applying the occupancy tax to establishments of three units or less,” he said. .
The quality of life issues that short-term rentals present with safety, security and accessibility raise another level of concern, Jarosh said.
“These concepts such as code enforcement are intended to ensure that those places that do overnight rentals provide a similar service to hotels – and hotels are already regulated on everything from smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. carbon to fire extinguishers, ADA (American with Disabilities Act) accessibility,” the county treasurer said.
“Those are the requirements we place on hotels in order to operate and serve the public, and so there’s a code enforcement issue saying, ‘Should those overnight rentals also be subject to the same regulations? “”
Jarosh said all things related to quality of life concerns are at the city level.
Gaston said quality of life concerns have grown in recent years, where there have been complaints about public safety and nuisance in short-term rental properties.
“I live two houses away from someone who is renting out part of their house for Airbnb, and I haven’t had any issues,” she said.
But previously, when Gaston was renting in another part of town, she recalled that “the house next to me, as far as I know, was used 100% like Airbnb, and it was incredibly difficult to sleep because there had parties. , constantly.
She continued: “There’s not much you can do, especially if they’re there for one night and then gone. Who do you blame for a noise complaint? Is it the owner?” But they weren’t the ones who were really there.
Gaston said she wants the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors to provide the treasurer with additional staff that would be needed to regulate security and recording short-term rentals.
“It might need more people in that office, and that’s something we would need to support,” she said, adding that her colleagues’ main concern was to hear from the public, that’s why she created the public forum.
“Forum is probably a bad word for it,” she said. “We want to hear what people think about this. Do they want us to register them? What problems do they foresee? What is their concern? Why do they think it’s worth it? »
Gaston said he’s heard of bed and breakfast operators before who have toyed with the idea of delisting their businesses, to put them on a par with short-term rentals.
“They say, I could opt out and do the same as short-term rentals and not have to do all the check-in, security requirements, taxes, etc. that make short-term rentals less secure and less accountable to the community,” she says.
By anyone’s best guess, the supervisor said there were over 1,000 short-term rentals in the city.
“I would say the numbers are significant and growing,” said Discover Saratoga’s Leggieri.
“Short-term rental platforms are here to stay,” he said. “We understand that. That’s how some travelers like to experience a destination.
“We just want to level the playing field so that all accommodation options contribute sales tax and occupancy tax,” he said.
Jarosh, the County Treasurer, said: “I believe this market needs to be created on an equal footing with our entire hospitality industry. It is a very vital market. The overnight rental market serves a key component of our market segment – and that is seasonality. »
Instead of building hotels, where occupancy rates fluctuate — up during the summers and down at other times of the year — the overnight market is able to quickly bring in the supply to the market when it is needed most, he said.
“That’s a key feature,” Jarosh said. “And I also want to make sure that landowners or landowners who have certain rights and want to supplement their retirement income or their education funds for their children – that they have the capacity to do so. We don’t want to take that away. But we certainly want to make sure it’s safe, secure and fair for everyone. »
Gov. Kathy Hochul’s $216.3 billion spending plan for 2022-23 would subject nontraditional vacation rentals to state and local sales tax, just like hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts.
In a statement, an Airbnb spokesperson said:
“The inclusion of the Governor’s budget is an important step forward for the thousands of Airbnb hosts in New York City who pay bills by homesharing, and will bring in millions of dollars in new revenue across the state each year. We’re thrilled the state has recognized the important role short-term rentals can play in New York’s recovery and hope that 2022 will be the year New York joins dozens of other states in adopting rules. reasonable short-term rentals that protect economic opportunity and advance tourism.
Contact journalist Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.
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