Council to limit short-term housing
Making a few extra bucks by using Airbnb to rent out a spare bedroom for MusicFest or Christkindlmarkt visitors is about to get a little harder.
Bethlehem city council Nov. 21 voted 6–0 to give preliminary approval to a bill called Short Term Lodging Facilities. This action and the public input citizens were able to make during the meeting advances the bill toward final approval Dec. 19, when the city council will take up the matter again, likely approving the final version.
Citizens, speaking to the council during the public comment portion of the agenda, made it clear that the public supports the new rules which will put limits on the increasingly popular Airbnb business.
Eileen Budd, a Bethlehem resident, said she has property near two “illegal hotels” and they cause her to fear for the safety of her daughter. “People are not vetted, there is no security, and the illegal rentals can lead to party house behavior.” She said one guest at one of the homes once sat on the porch in his underwear.
Bruce Haines, the managing director of the Hotel Bethlehem, told the council members that these private home rentals through Airbnb are affecting the hotel’s wedding business. He pointed out that his hotel provides security and enforces rules for guests, but security for rentals in private homes is left to the neighbors.
Frank Boyer, who said his family has lived in Bethlehem for 150 years, said he would never have bought his Market Street home if he thought a commercial business would open in nearby homes. He said the proposed ordinance is “not perfect, but a step in the right direction.”
The bill targets those owners who rent to “transient visitors” who in turn contribute to “greater incidence of disturbances and violations” and “adversely affect the peace and quiet of the neighborhood.”
The bill also seeks to “ensure safe, healthy and nondiscriminatory housing arrangements for transient visitors through a regular licensing and inspection program not hitherto in place for rentals of single family dwellings or portions” of them.
The bill imposes rules to control what property owners can do with their property when it comes to renting out rooms.
For example, the owner of a single family dwelling “may rent to no more than 2 Bed rooms to transient visitors for a period of not less than 24 hours and not more than 30 consecutive days.”
This rule also requires the owner to occupy the residence during the stay of the visitor. The new bill also imposes annual license terms, performance standards, and provides grounds for suspension, revocation or nonrenewal of licenses and for appeals.
Property owners who do business through Airbnb will face these new restrictions and be liable to penalties for violations. For the first violation, a home owner could face a fine or $200 or 30 days imprisonment, or both.
In other business, the council approved other first reading ordinances which will receive final approval Dec. 19. Most of the ordinances refer to budget items such as the general fund budget, the water fund budget, the sewer fund budget and other budget line items.
The council gave final approval to several resolutions to include approving records destruction, contracts and certificates of approval.