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Pros and cons of short-term rentals

Published November 05. 2019 11:42AM

The exceptional growth of rental platforms such as Airbnb, Flipkey and HomeAway has sent local governments scrambling to contend with the consequences of an industry that was virtually nonexistent 10 years ago.

While many assume that this is solely a big-city phenomenon, the fact is that tourist communities such as Jim Thorpe are taking a hard look at how this is playing out and wrestling with how to control unrestricted growth.

Last month, borough officials heard from proponents and opponents of short-term rentals. Although they discussed several key issues, they mainly boiled down to whether these rentals should be restricted to certain areas of the borough, how many parking places need to be allocated to guests who rent at these types of properties and how to keep a leash on bad behavior.

One of the great fears is that some of these properties will be used as party houses, which were banned by Airbnb during the weekend after five people were killed at a Halloween party at a rental home in the San Francisco suburb of Orinda.

Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky said the company will expand manual screening of high risk reservations and will remove guests who fail to follow policies banning parties at these rentals. “We must do better, and we will. This is unacceptable,’’ he tweeted.

Jim Thorpe Councilman John McGuire said information gained through these public discussions will be used to draft regulations that will be developed in council committee meetings and presented to council.

There are more than 1,000 short-term rental properties listed on the Airbnb site alone in the five-county Times News area, including more than 300 in Carbon County, most of which are in the Jim Thorpe and Lake Harmony areas.

As complaints mount, borough and township officials are being encouraged to take a hard look at the negative consequences of these rentals, such as noise, parking, excess traffic and trash accumulation. Enforcing these ordinances and zoning laws using traditional code enforcement has been challenging. Identifying illegal rentals has proven difficult and time-consuming, even though Pennsylvania has more strict legislation on the books than most states. As with many other regulations, it comes down to enforcement.

A major state Supreme Court decision favored nearby Hamilton Township in Monroe County earlier this year in its battle with Slice of Life, a short-term rental firm cited for violating the township’s zoning law.

The company appealed the zoning officer’s citation to the zoning hearing board and the county court of common pleas but lost. Commonwealth Court ruled favorably on the company’s appeal, but the Supreme Court overruled the lower court when the township appealed.

In its decision, the Supreme Court ruled the transient use of a residential property for short-term rentals is not compatible with Hamilton Township’s zoning ordinance.

The state high court’s ruling made clear that how a community words its zoning laws and ordinances will be a major factor on what kinds of controls it has on these types of rentals.

Considerable money is at stake, which is why the state and communities want to make sure that owners of these properties play fair and square and pay their share of lodging and hotel taxes.

An Airbnb spokesman said that guests who book at a Carbon County location through his company pay the county’s 3% room tax, including any cleaning fees. He also identified a short-term rental as one of 30 days or fewer.

To get an idea of how big this industry has become, in the past 10 years, the vacation rental industry has seen about 35,000 new short-term rental listings each month. As with most issues, nothing is black and white. Those against this type of lodging argue in favor of keeping a community’s character intact. They point to tourist communities where loud parties and other unsavory activities draw weekend and holiday revelers with little concern for neighbors. Those who favor the program point to increased tourism and an assist to the local economy.

Regardless of the pros and cons, most responsible individuals understand the need for reasonable, but not smothering, rules and regulations.

It’s important to know how short-term vacation rentals are impacting your community, according to a spokesman for Host Compliance of San Francisco, widely considered as the world’s leading provider of short-term rental compliance monitoring and enforcement solutions to local governments.

“Even though this new accommodation brings substantial economic benefits, when unregulated, these rentals can put pressure on communities. Whether positive or negative, ignoring the impact is not an option anymore,” the spokesman said.

By Bruce Frassinelli |

Don't worry. If this becomes a major issue in Jim Thorpe, you know the council will somehow screw it up like the train situation.

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