At the Legislative Committee Meeting on October 21, 2019, Council Member John Gabriel stated council had created an ordinance to help the city inspect Transient Accommodations properties to make sure they were safe for the Airbnb issue that has come on so fast and strong. He said this legislation has come into conflict with other legislation that is on the books, so it needs so much work that it’s almost better to repeal it, rewrite it, and bring it back again.
The Building Inspector was present to explain to council where they went off the rails.
“The Bed & Breakfasts are specifically addressed in the RS zoning district and exclusively in the Historic Downtown area,” stated Bill DiFucci, Building Inspector. “At the time, this was the only way they were getting into a transient rental was through the Bed & Breakfast venue. Things have changed now to where you can get into Airbnb’s or transient rentals of any type, but the way the code was written is that it allowed them in the RS; only in the Historic. Now, the way the ordinance was passed they’re free reign to go anywhere in the city, and I don’t believe this was necessarily the intent of the way the ordinance was written.”
DiFucci thought a lot of the ordinance had to do with having a safe occupancy, so nobody comes into town and gets hurt.
“People who have bought homes in a R1, R2, R4 or other zoning districts were of the understanding they were single family homes and their neighbors would live there full time, but now they’re having people coming and going all the time,” stated DiFucci. “They need to go into where they want these places to go and how they want to regulate them. I am 100 percent on board with the safety inspections.”
DiFucci provided council with pictures from long-term rentals on some of the things they have seen when going into these places. He said the transient inspections they have performed so far have been doing a great job of providing a safe structure for their guests. He said they have only done safety inspections – they have not issued licenses.
Gabriel said a subcommittee was formed to review this issue. The committee consisted of the Chairman of the Planning Commission, a resident who has many years of City Manager experience, and an expert in zoning on top of that, along with three council people. They met for a couple hours in a detailed meeting and out of it they provided council with recommendations which asks to repeal Chapter 873. He said the subcommittee will meet again to create another set of recommendations to bring back to the Planning Commission, and then Planning Commission will add their language and will then recommend it to City Council for additional input.
Council Member Brian Holmes said a lot of people are buying houses in residential areas and turning them into transient rentals. He said they need some teeth when creating short-term Airbnb’s.
Council Member Steve Holovacs thanked Gabriel for being a big leader in this issue. He said in the future he would suggest they form small subcommittees to work on these issues, as it might work out better for council as a whole.
Council Member Barb Brady said they also bring people in from the community that are experts to participate, so it expands the positivity of the matter.
Steve Herron, President of Council, said he didn’t have a problem with this procedurally, but he will not back down on his philosophy that if you buy a house you can do what you want with your house – he doesn’t want anybody to think that if they take away this ordinance that they can avoid the safety issues.
Gabriel asked DiFucci what will happen once council repeals this ordinance. DiFucci said there will be nothing on the books, and the problem is that these places are not operating as a true Bed & Breakfast, so they’re not addressing the city’s codes. They are transient rentals – they are short term rentals. It is governed by Bed & Breakfast when they serve a meal, so now they’re going to pop up and exist and be allowed to exist.
“Council needs to take into consideration if they do repeal this ordinance, what they’re going to do with safety inspections,” said DiFucci. “If there is a possibility of maintaining that then at least they will have eyes getting into these places in order to make sure the structure is safe. If the ordinance goes away all together, then they wouldn’t be forcing safety inspections.”
Monica Stark, Chairwoman, thought they should wait to repeal this ordinance until they have something ready to put in place.
Gabriel didn’t know if they were a permitted use in any residential area regardless. DiFucci said it’s not a defined use. Gabriel said if they leave Chapter 873 in place, then they can strike through the permit portion, so it’s strictly reworded for safety inspection. Gabriel said they can change the title of Section 873.02 to Transient Accommodation Inspections.
Brady asked the finance director what happens to the 3 percent if they don’t license them. Amy Hendricks, Finance Director, said it appears that Chapter 873 doesn’t address the lodging tax, so anything that has to do with the Erie County lodging tax, or the local lodging tax, would remain intact.
Gabriel moved and Loucka seconded to amend Ordinance 2019-5 (Chapter 873) by changing the title of Section 873.02 from License Required to Transient Accommodation Inspections, and striking 873.02(a), 873.03(a), and any other portions of the ordinance that deals with a license.