ITHACA, N.Y.—Discussions on the topic of short-term rentals (STRs) have slowed down since the spring when the Town of Ithaca’s new legislation went into effect, limiting the number of unhosted nights allowed through Airbnb, VRBO or other similar service platforms.

Josephine Ennis, a master in regional planning student at Cornell University who has been working with the City of Ithaca planning department on STR legislation, presented two policy proposals at the Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting on Sept. 21. The presentation can be viewed here.

Assumed policy goals that the proposals attempt to answer include “preserving housing affordability in the long-term rental and home ownership markets,” according to Ennis.

Additional goals include limiting negative effects on neighbors; protecting the health and safety of guests; ensuring an even playing field for formal lodging industry and compliance with the city’s room occupancy taxes; increasing lodging supply during peak demand periods; allowing residents the ability to generate additional income from their properties and ensuring feasibility of administration and enforcement of any new regulations.

“[STRs] are in every neighborhood in Ithaca, and there are about 250 active entire-unit rentals in the city. The median monthly revenue for these rentals is a little over $3,000, but a full-time rental would yield quite a bit more than that,” Ennis said.

The types of stays being discussed are unhosted nights, which are categorized as when a property is rented out as an entire house or unit on which the owner does not live; hosted nights, which typically are a private room or accessory dwelling unit or apartment attached to the owner’s primary residence; and occasional rentals, which are defined as fewer than 14 days per year (for example, a family renting out their house for graduation weekend).

Short-term rentals depicted on Airdna of active properties in Ithaca.

With the different types of stays, various issues are presented: with unhosted stays, it is difficult to prove when someone has exceeded the allowed number of nights (the Town of Ithaca’s legislation imposed a 29-night limit per year for unhosted stays).

Hosted nights typically have far fewer regulations than unhosted, as it has been found that having hosts on-site mitigates many of the concerns with unhosted nights, like noise complaints, excess trash and so forth.

Seasonal or occasional rentals are sometimes not regulated at all, like in Vermont where these properties aren’t registered and don’t pay the taxes associated with STRs, which can raise questions about guest safety and neighborhood nuisance, according to Ennis.

The first policy proposal included a license requirement before individuals rent or advertise their STR, a primary residency requirement for unhosted stays to occur and unlimited hosted stays for private rooms and accessory apartments. This is the most simple of the policy proposals — this policy allows individuals to rent out a space while they’re on vacation or not using it, but it may exclude users who rent their homes out for graduation and other special events if there isn’t a streamlined process for occasional use permits.

The second policy proposal still has the required license and primary residence requirement for unhosted stays, but also adds a special permit requirement for occasional rentals that does not have an inspection component. It also has a special permit for seasonal rentals for the summer season, from May 15 to August 15 without a primary residence requirement.

“This would allow more student renters to participate,” Ennis said, adding that this policy would continue to exclude investor-oriented owners.

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at zhessler@ithacavoice.com...