While many visitors may find it easier to navigate shore rentals with the recent growth of online platforms, city officials have run into issues with properties that create a “party-style” atmosphere, racking up noise complaints and code violations.
“It changes the dynamic of the neighborhood, and it does cause a lot of duress on the homeowners around there,” Ventnor Mayor Beth Holtzman said.
Airbnb, an online home-sharing platform based in San Francisco, allows residents to rent out their homes and has opened the door for travelers looking to have the local experience and millennials hoping to save on hotel fees.
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Officials in some shore towns are left to map out their own regulations on how to hold hosts responsible.
“We’re limited to what we can control. It’s somebody’s property. It’s a frustrating position for us,” Holtzman said.
Officials in Ventnor passed an ordinance that requires any hosts renting their homes for 30 days or less to apply for a mercantile license and pay a $100 fee.
The license treats the properties more like a business and allows staff members in a city’s mercantile licensing department to keep tabs on compliant properties and make noncompliant property owners aware of the local requirements.
The move to hold homeowners more accountable for unruly activity came just five days before a shooting broke out at one such property on New Years Eve.
A 26-year-old visitor from Hillside, Union County, was injured at a 12-bedroom home on Vassar Square Avenue that was listed on Airbnb as an “ocean-block mansion.” There were almost 100 people in the home for a party that night, police Chief Doug Biagi said.
Biagi said the property had parking violations and two noise complaints months apart last year, but, like many rentals in the city, had no serious incidents before.
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“For these people coming in for one night, a weekend or a week, the few are spoiling it for the masses,” he said.
Before the ordinance, Ventnor had no way to keep track of hosts using the online platform and file their contact information.
“I think the ordinance is the first step on trying to get a handle and at least give the city and the police the knowledge of who is renting and who is using Airbnb,” Holtzman said.
Airbnb said it recognizes the need for common-sense regulation of home-sharing and has worked with more than 400 municipalities to craft policy that fits both the needs of local government and those of local hosts.
“As a result, we can address transparency and public safety concerns, empower hosts to continue using their homes to make ends meet and help guests to visit new places all over the world,” said Josh Meltzer, head of Northeast policy for Airbnb.
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Airbnb also said it runs background checks on hosts and guests in the U.S., looking for prior felony convictions, sex-offender registrations and significant misdemeanors.
The company recorded 140,318 guest arrivals in Atlantic, Cape May and Ocean counties this summer compared with 83,037 guest arrivals in total last summer.
It’s also created economic opportunities for homeowners. Hosts in Atlantic, Cape May and Ocean counties made a total of $30.6 million over the past summer compared with $17.9 million during the same period last year, Airbnb said.
“Everybody’s entitled to a little capitalism, to make a dollar, but not at the expense of our residents,” Biagi said.
Ventnor officials also will now be able to issue summonses and revoke a host’s mercantile license for repeat violations.
“You hit an owner in the pocket with a summons or two that can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, I think they start to understand that it’s not cost effective or maybe they should start considering who they’re renting to and the type of people that are going into their property,” Biagi said.
Atlantic City Councilman Jesse Kurtz, who held a public forum two years ago with residents and stakeholders regarding short-term rentals, said they have helped raise property values and interest in neighborhoods like the South Inlet and Lower Chelsea.
However, Kurtz agreed hosts need to have more accountability.
He said that while short-term rentals often act as a substitute for hotels, they lack some of the same security features.
“The hotel has a whole built-in mechanism to deal with that where security will come and deal with the situation, and if it escalates then it will go to the police,” Kurtz said.
Atlantic City does not require Airbnb hosts to get a mercantile license, but Kurtz said he supports regulations that would put more responsibility on a “local contact,” the homeowner themselves or someone who is in the area of the home, to address issues in a designated amount of time.
In Ocean City, which also chose to require a mercantile license for renters in June 2017, short-term renters are required to submit to safety inspections of smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers, and to pay $145 toward the Tourism Development Commission.
Kurtz said the peer-review system of an online platform can encourage hosts to self-regulate.
“My conclusion as somebody who represents an area where this practice occurs, the enforcement of the quality-of-life issue is key,” Kurtz said.