CAYUGA HEIGHTS, N.Y.—The Village of Cayuga Heights has been a leading municipality in terms of short-term rental (STR) legislation locally for several years, serving as a sort of test case for surrounding towns, villages and cities in Tompkins County that are grappling with the presence and prominence of Airbnb and other similar services locally.

In 2017, Cayuga Heights passed new zoning laws that put a cap of 14 nights for unhosted rentals of a primary residence and 28 nights for rentals attached or in a primary residence (hosted rentals). The village, one of the more expensive areas of the county, is a popular location

In November, Cayuga Heights announced a new software called Granicus that will be used to monitor STRs and ensure that rentals are operating with the correct permits and for the allowed number of nights, now enabling the village to step up its punishments for those violating.

As of January 2023, permit costs are increasing from $125 to $150 and fines are increasing from $125 to $300 a day for each day the property is found to not be in compliance—something that Mayor Linda Woodard hopes will encourage compliance with the village’s updated STR law. Woodard also said that the increased fines and permit costs will also help the village cover the cost of Granicus. (The updated law can be found here.)

Granicus works by collecting information from all of the potential short-term rental websites including Airbnb, VRBO and others, and providing municipalities with information on who is operating STRs and where, meaning that it will catch listings that are operating without a permit or for more nights than they are allowed.

“We’ve had our law on the books the longest of any municipality in Tompkins County,” Woodard said, adding that when Cayuga Heights first wrote its STR legislation, Airbnb was the single platform for STRs. “It was fairly easy to determine who was doing it, but it was a little harder to determine if they were staying within the allowed number of days,” she said.

In the spring of 2022, new STR legislation in the Town of Ithaca went into effect, capping the allowed number of rental nights to 29 for unhosted properties and 245 for lakefront unhosted properties and implementing the use of Granicus.

Woodard said that the village saw that the Town of Ithaca was using Granicus software and decided to “piggy-back” on the town’s decision.

“There’s a whole host of platforms now, and it’s way more complicated to tell if people are in compliance,” Woodard said.

At a public hearing held in October, Village of Cayuga Heights Attorney R. Marcus said that the $300 fines can be triggered even in situations where a property owner “lists or otherwise advertises their property for short-term rental even if they have not yet rented it but have listed it without a permit,” meaning that the fines will be charged if an owner attempts to list prior to applying for or receiving a permit.

In order for a permit in the Village of Cayuga Heights to be granted each year, STR operators must turn in a log of the previous years’ rental dates.

Another argument for STRs is that people like to rent out their houses during graduation weekend. Woodard said that this past year, rentals were occurring during that weekend, though no one had applied for a permit to do so.

“It’s not in people’s heads that what they’re doing during graduation is a short-term rental. You really do need to pay attention to the laws,” she said.

One of the overarching reasons for this legislation, according to Woodard, is that “Cayuga Heights is a residential neighborhood with a small business area called Community Corners. People buy a house here not expecting to have a business next door, which is what Airbnb is — the other thing that we absolutely did not want to have happen was for developers to buy up properties and rent them out only short-term, and that is happening all over the city and the country.”

Another issue with short-term rentals that Woodard said Cayuga Heights is trying to limit is the short supply of housing, though only about 30% of the houses in the village contain an additional accessory unit or attached apartment.

Historically, she said, those attached units have been rented out to college students or professors on a more long-term basis, with short-term rentals only being made possible because of “the internet and the ability to advertise and reach out to people.”

With tighter regulations on STRs in the village and surrounding areas, Woodard said she believes people will “just go back to staying in hotels,” also noting that short-term rentals have been “really tough” on the hospitality industry.

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is the digital editor/reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Joining in November 2021, she has covered a wide range of topics related to local news. She can be reached at zhessler@ithacavoice.com,...