A group of petitioners fighting to stave off proposed short term rental guidelines in Asbury Park launched a campaign Sunday to get the issue placed on the November ballot.
“While many of you signed the online petition to defend private property rights from infringement by the AP City Council, we need your signatures on paper in order to get this on the ballot,” said Jon Biondo who launched an online Move On petition last week that has garnered 174 supporters.
Biondo, a lawyer who runs the humanitarian Youth of Malawi nonprofit, bought and refurbished a two family Victorian home [at right] that he lists on a short term rental site. The home boasts nine bedrooms, two kitchens and 5½ baths and can sleep up to 18. There is a required four night stay minimum with a nightly rate ranging from $1,000 to $1,800.
Less than 24 hours later, the group announced Resist – an April 30 short term rental petition party, asking attendees to bring five or more registered voter signatures as admission to the 1 to 5 p.m. backyard barbecue event at the home.
The issue of addressing the proliferation of short term rentals, like those available on Airbnb, Vrbo, and Home Away sites, quickly sparked contention with some residents and many property owners who own second homes within the city.
A standing room only crowd packed City Hall Saturday morning for a Community Input meeting to address concerns over the proposed legislation after a set of bullet point considerations were unveiled during the April 1 Asbury Park Homeowner’s Association meeting.
Meeting organizer Jordan Modell read a first draft of rules that included limiting the cumulative number of days per year; a two strikes and you’re out policy; an online registry of renter names, the number of guests and dates of stay; what will permitted in single vs multi family dwellings, limiting the number of vehicles per short term rental; mandating a 24/7 contact for any emergent issues or complaints; a one year $300 permit dependent on code and fire inspection; and a $2,000 violation fee.
At the center of the City’s argument is how the 1.6 square mile community can best address the proliferation of homes in residential neighborhoods being used predominantly for short term rentals, which is defined as a 30 day or less stay.
Led by City Manager Michael Capabianco, the meeting was the first of two created to solicit public input before a formal ordinance is introduced by the City Council.
“We want to understand what everyone has been doing in the city; what has been working and what has not worked,” he said. “But at the end of the day the city has an obligation to protect the entire city as a whole.”
To that end City Officials met with Airbnb executives and a committee comprised of Deputy Mayor Amy Quinn, Councilwoman Yvonne Clayton, Director of Planning and Redevelopment Michele Alonso, and Director of Property Improvement and Neighborhood Preservation Robert McKeon have meeting on a regular basis to vet the issues.
“Short term rentals of the Airbnb variety are a complicated issue, Quinn said in a written interview. “A quick Google search shows that some towns have taken extreme measures to curb them. There is a spectrum of ways to use short term rentals. At one end of the spectrum, a person may want to rent their home six or seven times a year while they are away for whatever reason, or to make a few extra bucks. At the opposite end of the spectrum are properties being purchased for the sole purpose of ‘Airbnb’ing’ them. No one will live there permanently, and they are bought for the sole purpose of short term rentals. Are short terms rentals good for towns like Asbury Park? Absolutely. But when we get to multiple entities buying multiple properties in residential neighborhoods for the sole purpose of Airbnb, that causes us to pause and think about what’s happening in those neighborhoods.”
McKeon said immediately following the meeting that the city is working to develop a framework for short term rental that balances the interests of people who have purchased properties and can profit on their investments yet take into consideration the rights of the surrounding property owners in.
“There is a fine line between a business being in a residential neighborhood and just a property that people are invested in,” McKeon said. “A property that for the most part they live there, or they rent it long term but for part of the year they rent it short term. They have the right to profit from their investment and we are not trying to bar that at all.”
McKeon said instead they are looking to expand the current $250 short term rental guidelines, which are in place for Memorial Day to Labor Day, to a yearly permit at a cost of $300.
“As long as it doesn’t cross the line of where it is the extreme from a home sharing situation to a business,” he said. “As an example, we are trying to get ahead of the game where people are coming in, speculators and investors, are coming in and buying some very large homes and intensifying the use to the maximum where you have four stays within a month of 18 to 20 people in a house. That’s 90 people in and out of that home in a month and that is not a residential home sharing use. That is a business in a residential neighborhood – two different things. It changes the dynamic of a neighborhood and it’s not fair to the people who bought their homes with the expectation that they were buying in a residential neighborhood and all of sudden now they have this hotel business plopped down in the middle of them.”
McKeon said while they have no current way of tracking calls to service to short term rental properties because property owners are not following the State Landlord-Tenant Legislative Act that requires them to register with the municipality. He said less than 20 percent of known short term rentals complied, allowing officials to ensure they were safe by conducting fire safety and code inspections.
“We have no where of knowing where those properties were or of connecting calls to those properties because we cannot identify where they were,” McKeon said.
Clayton said another concern is the effects the proliferation of short term rental in residential communities plays on the annual rental market for those who live and work within the community, particularly working poor families, service industry employees and burgeoning artists and musicians.
“We have a large population of employees looking for affordable places to live,” Clayton said. “We have concerns that the growth in short term rentals may contribute to a drive in the annual rental prices. We are looking to keep a balance of housing units for everyone, be it short or long term rentals. We want affordable housing to be available for everyone across the city.”
The city is not legally permitted to tax short term rentals.
Statewide laws require anyone renting a single or two family home to register with the municipality.
The city has a short term rental ordinance [from Memorial Day to Labor Day] in existence – 14 people registered last year.
The short term rental sites had 145 active listings in the midst of last summer. An aggregate counting of short term rentals done the first week of April found 225 active listings.
The average length of stay is four days, with an average of three people; equating to 21 to 25 people per month in a residential rental home.
Of the City’s 8,288 housing stock, 6,793 are occupied. Of those, 1,373 are owner occupied and 5,420 are renter occupied equating to 20 percent owner occupied and 80 percent rentals.
Last year the city adopted an ‘animal house’ ordinance to address bad tenant and/or landlord complaints but it does not apply to short term rentals since there is no current short term rental site mechanism to report issues back to the municipality.
Existing zoning laws call for residential neighborhoods to be zoned as such, prohibiting commercial activity.
The ordinance is slated to be introduced after Labor Day in fairness to those who have booked rentals for the summer season.
Over 100 people attended the Saturday meeting and among them was Jersey City resident Sam Stoia.
Stoia bought his westside home 7½ years ago for his mother. After her death, he renovated the property to use as a summer home for friends and family. And while he has posted the single family home on a short term rental site, he has yet to rent it as such.
“I saw Asbury Park as a burgeoning community, a cross between Fire Island, Provincetown and the Hamptons,” he said.
The Newark native said while he has no problem with the proposed permitting process or fees, he doesn’t understand how short term rentals contribute to the demise of the character of a neighborhood or how it helps make Asbury Park an unaffordable place to live.
“I don’t think it’s a sincere proposition,” he said. “There are so many houses in Asbury Park that have been vacant for so long. There are many homes in foreclosure and many businesses that fail on a regular basis. There is no empirical evidence that short term rentals is what is impacting rent or the cause of gentrification.”
Stoia said he does not understand why the town would not want gentrification.
“It moves an under cultivated area to at least middle class,” he said “Don’t we want all those people living in the southwest section living like middle class people.”
As for the debate on wanting to protect housing stock throughout the city for working poor families, service industry employees and burgeoning artists, he said market rate should dictate who gets to live where.
“If people feel like they are being priced out, there is a whole section of town that is waiting,” he said. “If you can’t find housing in the northeast side of town you are certainly free to find housing in the southwest quadrant.”
He proposes modeling Jersey City’s neighborhood revitalization model that set aside live work artist spaces.
“There are 3,500 homes in the southwest,” he said. “You can’t get four people together to buy a home. That’s how neighborhoods improve; get a few artists together, they can buy house and have a place to live and work in. The artist community should create their own coops.”
Stoia said he blames the drive in home prices on the developers. His tax bill increased 38 percent and homeowner’s insurance doubled since he first purchased his home, he said.
“Why aren’t the developers required to weave into their sites some space for artists,” he said. “They should have to provide at very least some sort of provision for artists to live there at a lower rate. Make developers give back more green space and have an aesthetic requirement on these buildings.”
As for the City’s contention of seeking ways to protect the fabric of its residential neighborhoods, Stoia said you cannot regulate the image or density of a town.
“The town has a Convention Center; it regularly has festivals, merry go rounds and invites transient visitors,” he said. “Asbury is becoming super, super dense. We can’t stop a wealthy banker buying houses to rehab them and increase the rent. I don’t think legions of people are going to be buying and turning homes into short term rentals. What you can’t do is falsely identify the short time rental as being the cause when there was no empirical data to support this.”
[Short term rental property photos courtesy of Jon Biondo]
The Asbury Park Sun is affiliated with the triCityNews newspaper.