“the off-street parking requirement is too restrictive for the Mrs. McVey’s of the City”

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Alan Lowcher, Esq. concentrates on real estate and land use law, speaks on the life of Abraham Lincoln, presents history-themed “lessons for lawyers” through the NJ Bar Association, and is a member of several associations promoting a deeper understanding of American history.

Gadfly:

The proposed Short Term Lodging Facility (STL) ordinance eliminates “whole house” short term rentals, which practice is what brought this issue to the attention of residents and City Council.

My concern with the ordinance is that the off-street parking requirement is too restrictive for the Mrs. McVey’s of the City:  good neighbors with an unused bedroom (or two) to rent out in order to help with upkeep, or just to be an ambassador of good will to travelers to Bethlehem.

Instead of 4, 5 or 6 bedrooms that could be used for short term stays, each bedroom equating to a automobile vying for a parking space,  now it is perhaps one or two automobiles.

Many otherwise qualifying STL facilities do not have two (or three) off-street parking spaces.

The proposed 2-bedroom limitation adequately addresses the parking concerns.

I would encourage City Council to re-consider the off-street parking requirement.

Alan

The proposed short-term lodging ordinance: “a balancing act between protecting neighborhoods and individual property rights”

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City Council held a public hearing on the short-term lodging issue March 3. Once again, Sara provides us with a good overview of the hearing. Note the contribution by Gadfly follower Kate McVey.

Sara K. Satullo, “Is Bethlehem going too far to restrict Airbnb rentals? Council and some residents aren’t sure.” Lehighvalleylive.com, March 8, 2020.

For 30 years, Kate McVey’s lived in her four-bedroom home steps from Moravian College’s campus, taking great pride in her Bethlehem home. With room to spare, McVey’s discovered that renting a single room on Airbnb helps her keep her home updated and her bills paid.

“I’d like to think I am a good neighbor,” McVey told Bethlehem’s City Council last week. Her guests have spanned all ages, exposing her to wonderful people in town for a job interview or a special event, she said. Folks often Uber from the airport or bus station and don’t take up a parking spot on Lorain Avenue where parking can be at a premium, McVey said.

McVey was one of three Airbnb hosts who spoke at a city council hearing Tuesday on a proposed zoning ordinance to share their concerns about a proposal to more tightly regulate the city’s short-term rental market. Bethlehem’s trying to rein in the practice of investors snatching up properties in the Historic District solely for renting them on home sharing sites like VRBO, Airbnb and HomeAway.

But residents and some members of council expressed concerns that the restrictions might go too far and inhibit legitimate home-sharing efforts, which the city says it doesn’t want to discourage. “This is a tourist city,” Councilwoman Grace Crampsie Smith said. The quality of life for residents is paramount, but it is a shame a “few bad apples” are ruining the process, Crampsie Smith said.

Under the proposed changes, a homeowner must be living in their property, present for all rentals and renting no more than two rooms. A home could not be rented for more than 30 consecutive nights under the proposal and the city requires annual licensing and inspections. The proposed zoning change also requires two off-street parking spaces per home and a third space if two rooms are rented. This does not apply to homes in the central business district, per the proposal.

Councilman Bryan Callahan opposes investors offering up city properties on home-sharing websites, but he has no problem with a resident renting their house for a month while they are on vacation, he said.

The city currently has 20 short-term lodging facilities that are properly licensed and inspected. But a few online searches turn up plenty operating outside the bounds of the regulation.

The city currently has 20 short-term lodging facilities that are properly licensed and inspected. But a few online searches turn up plenty operating outside the bounds of the regulation.

Councilman J. William Reynolds called this a balancing act between protecting neighborhoods and individual property rights. Much of it depends on how a judge interprets the regulations, he said. It will be very difficult to prove someone is renting their owner-occupied home when they are away, Reynolds said.

Resolution on short-term lodging coming to Council Tuesday

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The phenomenon of Airbnb/short-term lodging/short-term rentals has been an acute issue for some people in the Northside Historic District, but it is also a concern for others as the “Town Square” essay by Paul Peuker that we published yesterday shows. In fact, Gadfly has concerns relative to his own neighborhood. (Click on Airbnb or Short-term lodging under Topics on the right-hand Gadfly sidebar for previous posts.)

New legislation for the zoning code that has been working its way to City Council was discussed at the Planning Commission on January 9 and will come to Council Tuesday night in the form of a resolution to collect all kinds of information before enacting the legislation.

10o Resolution-Short Term Lodging Zoning Text Amendments (2)

At the moment Gadfly doesn’t have copies of the two exhibits mentioned in the resolution coming forward Tuesday, but here is an “unclean,” marked up draft of the latest revision of the proposed new addition to the zoning ordinance (Housing Ordinance 1741 on short-term lodging has been in operation for a year or two).  The January 9 Planning Commission recommended no changes in this draft. It just may be a bit confusing for you to read.

Here is the City Planning Director helpfully summarizing for the PC (and for us!) the background leading to the upcoming resolution and proposed legislation:

Here to Gadfly’s mind are some key components of the draft zoning legislation that followers might be interested in:

  • Owner-occupied (a big concern in the Northside Historic District): Short Term Lodging use is only permitted in an owner occupied single family dwelling existing and occupiable by persons as of January 1, 2020 or, for lots exceeding one( 1 )acre in size,in an accessory or outbuilding structure existing and occupiable by persons as of January 1 ,2020.
  • Parking: Two offstreet parking spaces are required for the dwelling. One additional space is required if more than one room is rented. These off-street requirements shall not apply to any short term lodging facility in a CB Zoning District.
  • Number of rooms: No more than 2 rooms on any lot may be offered for rent in any short term lodging facility regardless of the size of the structure or number of bedrooms.
  • Renovation: No exterior alteration or expansion shall be made to any building for purposes of furnishing or expanding short term lodging, except as may be required for purpose of sanitation, handicapped accessibility, historic rehabilitation or safety.

Bruce Haines and the Gadfly had suggestions for changes and questions, but since the upcoming action by Council is just a resolution to collect information, Gadfly will save that information for a later post.

But what are you seeing and thinking? Responses invited.

“Airbnb is good for Bethlehem”

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A “Town Square” in today’s Morning Call. A thorny issue as you can see if you browse past posts in this thread. There’s a short-term lodging ordinance on the agenda for Tuesday’s City Council meeting. So it’s time to pay attention. Gadfly will post again on this issue in the near future, before the meeting.

———–

Airbnb 2

Airbnb 3

Bethlehem’s Catch-22: what attracts can also erode

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Dana Grubb is a lifelong resident of the City of Bethlehem who worked 27 years for the City of Bethlehem in the department of community and economic development, as sealer of weights and measures, housing rehabilitation finance specialist, grants administrator, acting director of community and economic development, and deputy director of community development.

Gadfly,

It’s a “Catch 22” situation in Bethlehem, maybe more than ever before. What is attracting visitors, new residents, and development to Bethlehem is a city with many opportunities and amenities. However, with each of those advances it begins to erode the very quality of life and aura that Bethlehem offers. When will enough be enough? Individually an AirBnB, an out-of-context development, non-compliance may not seem that intrusive. But, when you start looking at the sum total of what is happening, the very characteristics that people find attractive become tarnished, and that sought-after quality of life is no longer maintained. Bethlehem has to be better by establishing standards so that those that come respect those that are already in place in Bethlehem. That is often not happening and is why residents are showing up to defend what they want and like about this town. Unfortunately, greed is often overwhelming what makes sense and builds a sound community, and some politicians are weak-kneed and often influenced by campaign contributions. We who are already here deserve better.

Dana

Concern that our original short-term lodging ordinance isn’t working

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In our last post in this series about the Planning Commission consideration of this proposed new Short-Term Lodging amendment to the City Zoning Ordinance, we listened to discussion led by one Commissioner about limiting the duration of a transient’s stay in short-term lodging and limiting the total time annually in which a home-owner could offer short-term lodging. Both questions related to the impact of short-term lodging on the quality of neighborhood life. Good.

Next, to understand the concern of Bruce Haines, managing partner of the Hotel Bethlehem — and “representing a neighborhood” — one has to back up to the passage in 2017 of the original attempt to control the perceived and experienced dangers of short-term lodging to the Northside Historical District represented by Airbnb: Article 1741.

Article 1741 was designed to address the concerns of neighbors about Airbnb (and no doubt similar businesses), and the current proposed zoning amendment requires that short-term lodging hosts must comply with “all aspects” of 1741.

So here’s Haines framing the purpose of 1741:

Haines’s present “beef,” if you will, is that the zoning amendment under consideration by the Planning Commission does nothing to address the shortcomings of 1741 (shortcomings of enforcement?). He identifies, for example, two specific properties in the Northside Historical District that have separate apartments and thus are not single family homes yet are licensed by the City for short-term lodging — even after being reported to the City.

“The ordinance that’s in place has been an utter failure . . . . and this isn’t going to help it. . . . The only time you should allow transient visitors in a residential community should be if they are sharing the space.”

Unfortunately, Mr. Haines seems to have run into the wall of compartmentalization. The Planning Commission chair focused just on the zoning amendment at that moment before the Commission and not this shortcoming of what we might call the “parent” 1741 ordinance.

And thus all Mr. Haines could do was make known his disappointment that persisting problems with short-term lodging in his neighborhood weren’t being addressed.

And so the long-standing “Airbnb” issue in the Northside Historical District is still not resolved despite legislation supposed to address their concerns.

The Planning Commission discusses the City short-term lodging proposal

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Your tax dollars at work!

Let’s look at the Planning Commission in action.

We looked at the “short-term lodging” ordinance newly proposed for the zoning code last time.

And Gadfly asked if it seemed reasonable, asked if you saw anything discussable.

Let’s suppose that almost all of us reading here are not offering short-term lodging.

One thing for us to think about is how this ordinance would affect you if you wanted to offer short-term lodging.

Gadfly, for instance, has a five-bedroom house. Suppose he wanted to offer two of them per the proposed ordinance for short-term lodging.

Is the new ordinance reasonable for his purpose? Yes, seems so.

But another thing to think about is how this ordinance would affect you and your mainly residential neighborhood if one or more of your neighbors went into the short-term lodging business.

Yeah, now there’s an issue Gadfly is familiar with.

A single woman on the block was offering short-term lodging in the early days of this business, before the others of us were familiar with the concept, and, besides a bit of a crimp in available parking sometimes, we were bothered by the coming and going of strange men at all hours of the night. It gave the neighborhood a different feel. An insecure feel.

Well, what did the Planning Commissioners see?

In this interesting clip, we see the Planning director frame the fair positive purpose of the ordinance (in a time in which affordable housing is an issue, this ordinance allows people to stay in their homes and make a few extra dollars) and then one of the Commissioners (Mr. Malozi) think out some potential problems.

We should note in passing that the Planning director says that when homes are owner occupied, there is no problem with short-term lodging — the problems come in situations when the owners don’t live there — that was the rub in the contentious issue in the Northside Historical District..

Mr. Malozi has two questions, the first being could a “transient” (the language of the ordinance) stay the 30 days allowed, leave for a day, and return for another permitted 30 days, and on and on. Gadfly is not sure he sees the problem here. Actually, he feels longer duration of transients might make the situation more comfortable for neighbors. You could get to know or at least recognize the transients, for instance.

The second question seemed more important to Gadfly. Should there be an upper limit of days that lodging could be offered? For instance, could you book your rooms 365 days a year? Hmmm. No specific upper limit was nailed down, but 90 days and 180 days were floated. Mr. Malozi, laudably, was concerned about the quality of the neighborhood with a high number of transients. Yeah, Gadfly gets that.

The PC seemed to favor a revision to accommodate concerns in regard to this second question and, unable to agree on a limitation, they tabled consideration till the next meeting.

Gadfly wondered about some limitation on the number of short-term lodging homes in a particular area. Gadfly lives near Moravian College, a good market, especially at certain times of the year. What if, for instance, instead of the just one short-termer on his block, there would be five. Now that would seriously change the neighborhood. And would be a great worry.

What do you think of the questions Mr. Malozi raised? See anything else?

We aren’t done yet with discussion at the meeting.

to be continued . . .

“This ordinance as proposed would hinder visitation to our beautiful city”

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Dave Ruhf is a retired 35-year veteran of the Bethlehem Fire Department and avid traveler living the dream.

Gadfly:

I believe this ordinance as proposed would hinder visitation to our beautiful city during our festive events.

I for one use Homeaway or AirBnB to visit out national parks in the western portion of our country. My wife and I usually travel with another couple with smaller children requiring at minimum 3 bedrooms.

Under the proposed ordinance someone who travels as I do couldn’t rent a short-term residence.

An example: I rented 5 different residences when I visited the national parks in Utah, and my longest stay was 2 days at any one place.

The two-bedroom rule is detrimental in my opinion.

I suggest the authority having jurisdiction should investigate the average stays that people require when visiting vacation venues.

Dave

Here’s the proposed zoning amendment on short-term lodging

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We always go to the primary sources, right?

Here is the short-term lodging proposal for addition to the zoning ordinances that was presented by Ms. Heller, City Planning Director, at the December 12 Planning Commission meeting.

Short-Term Lodging amendment to the City Zoning Ordinance

Here also is the related housing ordinance 1741 currently in place governing short-term lodging.

Article 1741: Short Term Lodging Facilities

And here Ms. Heller goes over the highlights of the proposed zoning amendment for the Planning Commissioners.

  • Short-term lodging is the term we use for services like Airbnb and others.
  • We currently have a housing ordinance that addresses short-term lodging, been in place for 18 months or two years.
  • We do require that anyone operating short-term lodging be licensed.
  • We’re taking the opportunity now to carry some of those same provisions over into the zoning ordinance.
  • We have a definition for a short-term lodging facility and also for hotels so that the two are compatible.
  • We define where short-term lodging will be permitted.
  • If someone is renting out two bedrooms, we would require a third off-street parking space.
  • We are not allowing in this ordinance a rental of more than two bedrooms.
  • We would only be permitting in an owner occupied unit.
  • For a unit not occupied by the owner, we would not allow short-term lodging at all.
  • No more than two rooms can be offered for rent.
  • No exterior alterations.
  • If the unit is owner-occupied and you can meet these parameters, short-term lodging would be permitted.
  • We would not consider short-term lodging for any unoccupied or landlord-type scenario.

Sound reasonable? Whatta you see?

to be continued . . .

 

 

Airbnb . . . short-term lodging: why should we care?

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As we move into a series of posts on the short-term lodging proposal just introduced before the Planning Commission, Gadfly would like to recycle part of post from October 6, 2018, fourteen months ago, and just 3 weeks after Gadfly-became-Gadfly.

The Northside Historical District is not Gadfly’s neighborhood. It is not the neighborhood of you, the vast majority of Gadfly followers.

Why should we care what happens in the Northside Historical District?

First things first, why should the general “we” of the City care? Why is Gadfly spending time on this? Why should you read on if you don’t live in the Northside Historical District?

Good question, Gadfly.

And Gadfly answers that it has to do with the perfectly understandable concern over the nature of your neighborhood. Something everybody has or should have. Every time Gadfly uses that word “neighborhood,” he thinks with pleasure of Fred Rogers, “Mr. Rogers” (did you see the recent Tom Hanks’ movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”?). It’s about the quality of life in your neighborhood, about caring for and about your neighborhood, and “control” of your neighborhood. This is or should be a concern across the City and has much wider implications than just Airbnb.

Mr. Gadfly’s neighborhood is changing. Has changed. Of the 15 houses in Gadfly’s block, 6 are now rentals. Porch palings are missing. Parking is harder. Some sidewalks want to hurt you. Mother Nature is sometimes the only sidewalk snow-shoveler. Glaring, spooky feral cats have taken over the once carnival-like street (40 kids playing there at one point). Yards aren’t all that well taken care of. Gadfly’s lawn is “crop-circled” by dogs on leashes. Where have all the flowers gone? Some porches have become utility sheds. We were once a tree-shaded lane; now Gadfly’s tree (“Secundus,” since it is a replacement) stands alone, sole respecter of City ordinance.

Poor maudlin Gadfly. He doesn’t live in the Northside Historical District. But he gets it. We all should get it. Neighborhoods change one rented house, one dog pee at a time. Often imperceptible change. Till one day it’s too late. Gadfly gets it. We all should get it. And be invested in what happens in the Northside Historical District.

It pays to fight for our neighborhoods. Gadfly always says that. You may have noticed.

We must speak up.

Airbnb has provided some of the most dynamic resident-involved meetings in Gadfly’s Council spectatordom history. Take a look at “Our neighborhoods are under attack” (the quote is Frank Boyer’s), about the September 4, 2018, meeting that Gadfly called “one of the best of the year . . . The air crackled. Tension was thick. The issue was urgent, resident commentators were passionate, Council was involved and concerned.”

It’s up to the City to protect our neighborhoods.

Whether it’s First Terrace or West Goepp or whatever, Gadfly will always be following “developments.”

Let’s see what’s going on with this proposed zoning ordinance.

to be continued . . .

Proposed zoning ordinance dusts off the Airbnb issue

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Short-term lodging, short-term rentals, home-sharing: sometimes conveniently referred to by the short-hand of Airbnb, the company with which this practice is most associated.

Airbnb locations in Bethlehem

“The Uber of the hospitality market, Airbnb acts as an online broker, connecting people who need a place to stay with hosts who have a spare bedroom, apartment or a full house to rent.”
————

The Airbnb issue is before us again. It’s been out of sight for over a year. Brought back by a proposal introduced at the Planning Commission December 12 for a change in the zoning code to complement an ordinance passed last year.

We’re going to spend several posts on this proposal. So it’s time to refresh ourselves on the background.

Click Airbnb under Topics on the right-hand Gadfly sidebar for access to previous posts.

For a deep background timeline, see: The Airbnb Controversy (1)

Though the roots of this controversy long precede Gadfly-becoming-Gadfly, the issue seems to have begun with neighbors’ reacting to a specific Bethlehem couple in the Northside historical district renting their home (and then homes) on a short-term basis.

In the next post we will want to ask why all of us should be attentive to what’s happening in one section of the City.

Charles Malinchak, “Bethlehem planners delay recommendations on short-term lodging changes.” Morning Call, December 13, 2019.

Bethlehem is considering a proposal to regulate short-term rentals — akin to renting rooms or whole houses to overnight guests — in its zoning code for the first time. While the city has an ordinance to license such uses, the new ordinance would actually spell out in what zoning districts they can be.

The proposed changes are in an zoning amendment aimed at what is being called “short-term lodging” which the commission discussed, but members determined at least two sections of the regulations need to be fined tuned. The two questions the commission requested be looked into further were how many days per year the home or room can be rented and what zoning districts should the activity be permitted.

According to a copy of the proposal, a short-term lodging facility is a single family home occupied by the owner who rents no more than two bedrooms for up to 30 days. The home would not be licensed as a hotel or a bed and breakfast and no exterior alterations or expansions of the home would be permitted to expand the rental operation, according to the amendment. The areas where the rental activity would be permitted or with a special exception permit include the following zoning districts: rural residential, single family residential and medium and high density residential.

Hotel Bethlehem Co-Partner and city resident Bruce Haines told the Planning Commission that the amendment doesn’t really mesh with an existing ordinance regulating housing. “The point is, these places need to be single family homes where the visitor has access to the entire house like the kitchen, living room and dining room,’’ he said after the meeting. One of the problems, he said, is that several homes in the center city historic district are already operating under the pretense of short-term lodging but are actually apartments with no access to the rest of the house.

The commission will continue discussion of the issue and possibly make recommendations at its January meeting. Those recommendations would be forwarded to City Council. The city began looking at the zoning issue after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court case earlier this year that ruled in favor a Monroe County municipality’s zoning of short-term lodging. The city’s current licensing ordinance is under appeal in Northampton County Court.

The ordinance was created after residents complained about the houses being rented out in their neighborhoods. Critics say they have no problem with homeowners licensed to rent out a bedroom or their house to overnight guests, but oppose investors buying homes for that sole purpose, creating a commercial intrusion into their neighborhood.

to be continued . . .

Taking the air out of Airbnb? (11)

(11th in a series of posts on Airbnb)

Been a good 6 months since Gadfly buzzed about the Airbnb issue, affecting several parts of the City but especially the Northside Historical District.

But interesting news.

April 26, 2019

Justia Opinion Summary

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to determine whether a zoning ordinance that defined “family” as requiring “a single housekeeping unit” permitted the purely transient use of a property located in a residential zoning district. This question arose based on the increasingly popular concept of web-based rentals of single-family homes to vacationers and other short-term users (usually for a few days at a time). The Supreme Court concluded that pursuant to its prior decisions in Albert v. Zoning Hearing Bd. of N. Abington Twp., 854 A.2d 401 (Pa. 2004), and In re Appeal of Miller, 515 A.2d 904 (Pa. 1986), the purely transient use of a house is not a permitted use in a residential zoning district limiting use to single-family homes by a “single housekeeping unit.”

Let’s chew on that last line again: “the purely transient use of a house is not a permitted use in a residential zoning district limiting use to single-family homes by a “single housekeeping unit.”

What else can than that mean than Airbnb in the Northside Historical District is not permitted.

Can we look forward to the end of Airbnb in the Northside Historical District?

The Gadfly family recently stayed in an Airbnb-type house for an extended stay in South Bend, Indiana, for the graduation of a granddaughter from the University of Notre Dame. It was a lovely stay. It beat the hell out of us all staying in separate hotel rooms.

The previously rather run-down neighborhood around campus is undergoing a change as dilapidated homes are being demolished and new homes are replacing them, new homes expressly built for Airbnb-type purposes.

Thus, that situation is quite different than what we have.

Nothing against the home-sharing industry. Fine in South Bend. It is actually kind of creating a “neighborhood” there. Home owners are for the concept.

Quite a different situation than what we have.

“Our neighborhoods are under attack” (10)

(10th in a series of posts on Airbnb)

The Old info about the Airbnb issue that Gadfly wants to fill in here in this post comes from the Sept 4 City Council meeting, the minutes of which have only recently become available.

Those minutes are available at Sept 4 City Council minutes (pages 2-16).

(All quotes here will be from the minutes, but, as we all know, the Council minutes by Louise Kelchner are very full and good, so that the minutes are virtually transcriptions of the speakers.)

Gadfly wants to provide this “old” information not only to fill a hole in the record of this issue on the blog but also to highlight the high quality of the resident commentary.

Remember, the full minutes are just a link away, and you are encouraged to use that primary source.

Remember, too, that this meeting occurred before the successful Oct. 5 hearing before Judge Manwaring reported on in post #7 and then the appeal of the Judge’s ruling by the owners this past week, as just reported here in post #9.

Gadfly remembers the Sept 4 meeting as one of the best of the year. The air crackled. Tension was thick. The issue was urgent, resident commentators were passionate, Council was involved and concerned, the City solicitor provided necessary factual framework (first time Gadfly had heard him speak at a meeting) to help keep everybody’s eyes on the ball.

In short, everyone was concerned about and frustrated by a continuing problem that a recent ordinance was supposed to fix. Why were the Airbnb rentals still occurring? Why wasn’t the City enforcing the ordinance?

After all, as Frank Boyer said, “our neighborhoods are under attack.”

The basic response to those kinds of questions was mundane and bound simply to raise the collective frustration level: lack of enough enforcer person-power. Chief City code enforcer (and new to the job, Gadfly believes) Michael Simonson detailed the burdens of his limited staff compounded by the fact that violators must be caught in the act, in flagrante delicto, which, of course, is almost always after hours and on weekends when his staff is not working. This latter point seemed a genuine surprise to everybody. High hopes and expectations dashed by workaday, practical realities.

Councilman Reynolds asked the key question: why can’t the City just shut down these rentals while waiting for the Northampton County court to make a ruling on the validity of the ordinance? City Solicitor Leeson provided an answer as basic and as understandable as Simonson’s and just as frustrating: the punishments in our ordinance are only fines and penalties (and we cannot even increase the fines or apply penalties until we get a first adjudication of guilt on the homeowner). And if the City wanted to go further to stop the businesses, it would have to show proof of guilt, which it would not have till it won the case before Judge Manwaring that was not coming up for a month. The City was trapped by circumstance, paralyzed at the moment.

Attorney for the HDNers (Historic District Neighbors) Tim Stephens did not improve anybody’s digestion by reporting that the ruling by Northampton County judge Dally could take months and even if in favor of the City, appeals could take years. His advice was to continue enforcement, pile up multiple fines as evidence of guilt, do it throughout the City so that multiple judges are involved, and on that basis petition for a preliminary injunction to halt operation. Even that might not work. The standard is high. But faint hope glimmered.

Enter the residents. Gadfly only began following City Council in January, so he went back to the minutes of the meetings of Nov. 21 and Dec. 5, where this STR ordinance passed its two readings. Large and eloquent resident commentary overwhelmingly favored passage of the ordinance. Go take a look. It’s great stuff! This time, however, similarly forceful resident commentary was aimed at urging the City to beef up enforcement of that ordinance.

Ron Yoshida held up the bleak image of Lisbon, which he had just visited, where Airbnb has swallowed half the historic district, and, emphasizing the need to set budget priorities to enforce the STR regulations and fight this cancer, he reminded us of the old Fram oil filter commercial: “Pay me now, or Pay me later!”

No need to look across the pond for an image of the cancer besetting us, said Stephen Antalics, just look across the river into the Southside, where nonresident landlords destroyed a vibrant community by buying up properties and turning them into student housing. The common denominator between the Airbnb and student housing is simple — it is profit. Be aggressive, fight with every tool you have, counseled Antalics: “You have history here, the death of the south side from a cancer that could spread across the river to the north side.” (Gadfly thought Stephen’s ex tempore here, the most striking, the most powerful he heard all year.)

Riffing on Antalics, Bruce Haines described the significant and dangerous difference between student housing and Airbnb as the difference between the neighbor you can at least get to know and a succession of neighbors you don’t know, will never get to know — a succession of complete strangers. Neighbors not at all.

Al Wurth pointed out that the City rules and regulations confer value, the value that provides incentives for home owners to pay the higher prices for houses in the historic district. The City provides assurance to people that where they move will not turn into a nightmare. And that requires a good deal of enforcement of those rules and regulations. “We cannot have let’s make a deal, we cannot have sharp lawyers getting around the law.” We must give that assurance so people will want to live in the District.

While other residents focused on what the City can and should do, Bill Scheirer focused on what residents themselves can do. Like being City watchdogs. Catching renters in flagrante delicto. Seeing renters arriving at an Airbnb site one day, Scheier hustled himself right to City Hall and fetched the enforcement officer, who issued a citation. And like being just plain ornery rascals. To wit, when using the library, Scheirer makes it a point to park in front of the nearby Airbnb house when he can, “just to deny them one parking space.” Citizen activism! You gotta love it.

And successful.

Shortly after the meeting the Bethlehem Press could report that “Donchez cracks down on rentals.” The Mayor moved to make staffing adjustments aimed at improving the policing of the rental sites: “Effective beginning this weekend, there will be an increase in monitoring and enforcement of Short Term Lodging Facilities throughout the City. We will now have on-call and proactive monitoring of our STL ordinance on Thursday and Friday evenings, as well as on Saturday and Sunday. The public is encouraged to call the City’s non-emergency number, 610-865-7187 and speak with a dispatcher, leaving your name and phone number so an inspector can call you back to assess the situation. The inspectors will be available to come out to the site, gather evidence, and cite new violators of this ordinance.”

Nicely done, gadflies.

Local Airbnb decision appealed (9)

(9th in a series of posts on Airbnb)

My mole in the bureaucracy informed Gadfly that the Oct 5 decision of local magistrate Manwaring against the home owners for specific violations made at his then toilet-less but now fixed courtroom on Broad Street has been appealed.

At that Oct 5 hearing, Judge Manwaring as much as said he assumed his ruling would be appealed.

And, though Gadfly may be mistaken, there seemed to be some sense that the ruling would be reversed on appeal.

The case was appealed to the Court of Common Pleas, which, Gadfly believes, is the same Court hearing the case on the validity of the Bethlehem Ordinance, which is the bigger, more fundamental issue here.

But Gadfly could be wrong. Much a rookie in these legal matters.

Any info that the NHD neighbors can share would be valued.

Here are the court documents so far:

Airbnb 1

Airbnb 2

Not much to see here.

Gadfly has reached out to homeowners Brew and Williams, as well as their lawyer, but they have not responded. The basis for their appeal of Judge Manwaring’s ruling is given in post #7 in this sequence.

We do not have their position in detail on the larger issue of the validity of the ordinance per se. Newspaper articles indicate that the basis for their appeal there is that the City should have enacted a zoning change rather than the ordinance, thus grandfathering their business operation. The owners have also made a case in interviews that they are preserving the properties and keeping them from being turned into apartments. Also, Gadfly supposes, they could make the case they they simply have the right to engage in lawful business. They did not appear at City Council at the end of last year to contest the proposed ordinance.

Regrouping on Airbnb (8)

(8th in a series of posts on Airbnb)

Gadfly would like to regroup here, both for himself and for new followers.

There are two somewhat related issues going on concerning the Northside Historical District. Gadfly got in on both late, tends to confuse them, and thus the two discussion threads are a bit helter-skelter.

The two threads are “Airbnb” and “2 W. Market St.”

The fear that neighbors in the Northside Historical District share in these two cases is, as resident Al Wurth tagged it, “creeping commercialization.” And the desire that unites all of us in spirit with the NHDers is, as Council President Waldron, put it, control of our neighborhoods.

In fact, it was these two cases that caused Gadfly to start the broad continuing thread on Neighborhoods here on the blog.

There’s a lot of Neighborhood activity: some are under assault, some attempting comprehensive revival, some engaged in focused planning.

Let’s focus just on Airbnb.  Aka “short-term rentals” (STR). Aka “home sharing.”

On the Airbnb issue, Gadfly wants to fill in some old info, add some new info, and bounce off this case to a general point about his followers.

So, since Gadfly’s presentation has been a bit helter-skelter and since new people are listening in, here’s a bit of recap.

And then there will be 2-3 posts in fairly quick succession while I fill in, add, and bounce.

Jay Brew and Mary Ellen Williams are renting three properties – 258 E. Market, 265 E. Market, and 4 W. Church St. — in the Northside Historical District through Airbnb.

The neighbors complained.

City Council passed an Ordinance regulating STR. (December)

The City cited the home owners.

The homeowners challenged the validity of the Ordinance in County Court. (June)

Renting continued.

There was significant resident complaint and discussion at City Council. (Sept 4)

The Mayor stepped up enforcement. (Sept 19)

District Judge Manwaring found the owners guilty of some specific violations of the Ordinance. (Oct 5)

The case in County Court about the validity of the Ordinance continues.

So there’s the background up to the new development Gadfly can add in the next post.

Airbnb on Broad Street (7)

(7th in a series of posts on Airbnb)

Now score one for the City and the neighbors of Brew and Williams, who turned out in good numbers to Judge Manwaring’s nice but small and temporarily bathroom-less courtroom.

Nicole Radzievich, “Here’s how a judge ruled on the first citations stemming from Bethlehem’s home-sharing law.” Morning Call, Oct0ber 7, 2018.

“The first round of citations involving Bethlehem’s new home-sharing law were upheld Friday. District Judge Roy Manwaring found that a trio of stately homes in a historic neighborhood violated the ordinance which requires inspections and a license to rent rooms or the whole home to overnight guests.”

“In making his decision, Manwaring said the city ‘narrowly satisfied’ its burden for the convictions and suspected that the defendants will appeal the case to Northampton County Court.”

“Leo DeVito, the defendant’s attorney, declined to comment after the two-hour hearing.”

Though DeVito declined to comment to the Call, Gadfly picked up these points from his concluding statement:

  • The City failed to cite the proper party
  • There was no evidence that the people in the properties were there for less than 30 days (a provision in the ordinance)
  • a citation without an address was a “fatal defect” (he won that point from the Judge)

So that’s where we stand now. The City/neighbors won in local court, but there seems to be expectation they will lose in County Court.

Here’s a reminder what the stakes are in this issue:

  • the homeowner’s right to run a business
  • the neighbors’ rights to good quality of life
  • the city’s right to protect residents
  • the city’s right to collect taxes
  • the hotels’ rights to be spared unfair competition

It’s a knotty issue.

And Gadfly’s interest in the resolution of this issue over who has power in a neighborhood is especially spurred by our developing thread on neighborhoods, for instance, Northside 2027 and the West Side Rose Garden.

(By the way, on Airbnd paying taxes, see How much has Airbnb paid in taxes in Pennsylvania?”)

Airbnb in Northampton County Court (6)

(6th in a series of posts on Airbnb)

Old news. Just filling out the record. Gadfly likes a full record.

In post #1 in this series on the Airbnb Controversy, Gadfly gave you a timeline. He now wants to bring you up to date before moving on to another neighborhood issue at 2 W. Market St.

In that timeline Gadfly said that there were hearings before Northampton County Court and before local judge Manwaring. The issue is renting three properties owned by Jay Brew and Mary Ellen Williams – 258 E. Market, 265 E. Market, and 4 W. Church St. — in the Northside Historical District through Airbnb.

Here’s info on the Northampton County Court front.

Nicole Radzievich, “Airbnb owners in Bethlehem score first legal victory in clash with city.” Morning Call, October 3, 2018.

On October 3, “The couple renting out a trio of stately, historic Bethlehem homes on the Airbnb home-sharing platform scored their first legal victory over the city. Northampton County Judge Craig Dally ruled against the city’s initial arguments to toss the challenge of its new home-sharing ordinance and is allowing the case to proceed.”

“Leo DeVito, attorney for the plaintiffs, argued in court papers that the restrictions should have been addressed through a zoning ordinance, and that the city didn’t go that route because it would mean those existing rentals in the historic district would have been ‘grandfathered in.’”

“The city argued that the ordinance affects properties citywide to protect the health and welfare of its residents. The city has the power to regulate that outside the zoning code”.

“In his nine-page ruling against the city’s preliminary objections, Dally said the city hadn’t met its legal burden yet to dismiss the case at this time.”

“’While it may be true, as Defendant contends, that the [short-term lodging ordinance] contains provisions at least nominally directed at health and safety of Bethlehem residents, this does not obscure the fact that the overall impact of the [ordinance] indicates that it is effectively an amendment to the city’s zoning ordinance, intended to classify and restrict a new use previously unaddressed,’ Dally writes.”

“The judge also pointed out that the city initially tried to cite the owners under the current zoning ordinance before creating the new ordinance.”

“If the plaintiff’s claims are true, Dally said, there is enough legal basis on which the plaintiffs could establish their right to relief.”

“The lawsuit is asking a judge to rule the ordinance invalid, allow the short-term residential rental business to continue and stop the city from prosecuting them under the ordinance.”

Score one for homeowners Jay Brew and Mary Ellen Williams against their neighbors and the City of Bethlehem.

Now on to the local judge.

STRs are commercial operations and belong in commercial districts (5)

(#5 in a series of posts on Airbnb)

Barbara Diamond enjoys retirement as Lehigh University Director of Foundation Relations by engaging in various activities and organizations hopefully for the betterment of the community. Her particular interests at the moment are preventing gun violence, local government ethics reform, and Bethlehem Democratic Committee work.

Dear Gadfly, I have watched Mr. Brew’s video a couple of times (and have taken note that it appears embedded in a number of the Morning Call articles about this issue, as well as a slide show of one of his short term rentals [STRs]. I’m still waiting for the Call to do a video featuring opponents’ arguments!) In response to his statement that he is preserving the historic houses for posterity, I say that all of us who reside in these houses are doing that without turning them into businesses that create negative impacts for immediate neighbors and the neighborhood as a whole. There is a considerable body of evidence about how damaging this is for neighborhoods, easy to find online. That is why cities across the country and all over the world are passing ordinances to regulate STRs. They are commercial operations and belong in commercial districts not in residential neighborhoods. They instantly cause residences around them to lose value — who wants to live next door to one? They remove houses from available residential housing stock so that individuals and families, the very foundation of a neighborhood, are closed out. The houses he bought were all previously single family residences. He did not “rescue” them; they did not need rescuing. As to his implication that his only alternative would be to turn them into apartments, I actually would prefer that because they would be homes for people who would be my neighbors, part of my community rather than be weekend destinations for people with no investment in my neighborhood or community. But that is not his only alternative. If he can’t get the rent he wants, he can sell them so that they can become a home for people who will cherish them.

Barbara

Airbnb: Big Picture — Part 2 (4)

(4th in a series of posts on Airbnb)

Airbnb
Airbnb locations in Bethlehem

—————–

How did Williams and Brew respond?

Gadfly is not totally confident of his grasp of the exact steps and chronology in this area. And perhaps others can provide clarification if necessary.

But around June they sued the city:

“Bethlehem’s fledgling home-sharing law, which cracked down on a trio of historic homes listed on the Airbnb website, is being challenged in Northampton County Court. The legal action filed Tuesday alleges the law, which includes a provision that short-term residential rentals be owner-occupied, should have been addressed through a zoning ordinance and that the city didn’t go that route because it would mean those existing rentals in the historic district would have been ‘grandfathered in’.”

At some point — April, I think — the City started citing Williams and Brew for violations of the ordinance. Williams and Brew apparently ignored the citations according to testimony the Gadfly heard yesterday and that lead to yesterday’s hearing in local magistrate court.

Are Williams and Brew the BadGuys?

Brew was at the hearing yesterday but was not called on to testify. He was certainly the “villain” to the audience members filling the room. In a case before the Court of Common Pleas, Williams and Brew are questioning the validity of the City ordinance itself, and in the magistrate proceeding yesterday they were contesting the validity of citations for violating that ordinance.

But Williams and Brew have a side, a position that goes beyond making money, which one might think of as the main motive. They see themselves protecting the history represented in those houses.

They can be seen talking about their “philosophy” in the short video here: “we’re preserving these homes and also the green space behind these homes and in the front yards. . . . [we are hoping] to bring people in to Bethlehem who will enjoy the historic district as well as support the local businesses. . . . we’re really making an investment in the community. . . . [we aim to] “improve the values in the historic district and also save these large homes from being just turned into apartments.”

And here is the Williams and Brew side of the situation as captured in the Morning Call story:

“He’s a great neighbor, a reputable businessman who will maintain his properties and be good for the neighborhood,” [a neighbor] said.

That, Brew and Williams say, is their intention.

He is one of the founders of Embassy Bank and she is a retired doctor. They decided about a year ago to buy some historic homes as a way to keep them from becoming run-down and spoiling the neighborhood, where they also live. They started with a home they could see from their backyard, fixing it up and renting it to a professor.

When a neighboring home went on the market, the couple bought that, too, accumulating seven rental homes in the neighborhood, including the Chandler House, which they bought for $800,000 last summer. The homes less than 3,000 square feet rented immediately, Brew said. But there was no market for homes such as the Chandler House, which exceeds 4,000 square feet.

Recalling that the previous owner had listed one of the three bedrooms on Airbnb, they decided to rent Chandler House rooms from $150-$240 a night, or the whole house for about $720.

Without the income, Brew said he fears he would have to convert the house to two units and, to meet city parking requirements, pave the backyard. He said his solution maintains the historic grandeur of the home while keeping it a place where people live — at least temporarily.

Gadfly is reaching out to Williams and Brew and their attorney for comment.

What are the stakes in this dispute?

  • the homeowner’s right to run a business
  • the neighbors’ rights to good quality of life
  • the city’s right to protect residents
  • the city’s right to collect taxes
  • the hotels’ rights to be spared unfair competition

What needs to be filled in to Gadfly’s BigPicturing here?

Airbnb: Big Picture – Part 1 (3)

(3rd in a series of posts on Airbnb)

Airbnb
Airbnb locations in Bethlehem

———

So let’s look at BigPicture. Gadfly’s quoting will be from the newspaper articles.

What is the issue?

Complaints by neighbors about Mary Ellen Williams and Jay Brew using their homes at 258 E. Market, 265 E. Market, and 4 W. Church for short-term rentals through Airbnb.

While Williams and Brew are the foci of the legal proceedings going on that give this situation headlines, others have come to public comment at City Council meetings to complain about similar issues in other parts of the City.

What is Airbnb?

“The Uber of the hospitality market, Airbnb acts as an online broker, connecting people who need a place to stay with hosts who have a spare bedroom, apartment or a full house to rent.”

Is Airbnb a BadGuy?

No, not necessarily.

Like every new technology (and I think we can think of this system as a technology), it has a good side and a bad side. And sometimes the bad side is not seen right away. And sometimes there’s a time-delay until the bad side is seen. Side-effects come with the territory. Society always has to adjust to a new technology. Society often has to play catch-up.

No doubt many people in Bethlehem have utilized Airbnb. In fact, as of a year ago, 13,000 of us used Airbnb. Two of our City Council members described positively using Airbnb during discussions of this issue. In addition, Williams and Brew are not the only Bethlehem hosts. As of a year ago, 51 of us were hosts.

A Gadfly son and daughter-in-law are hosting us and other family members in South Bend for several days next May around the graduation of our oldest grandchild from Notre Dame (Go, Irish!) in a rented house. And it would not surprise me at all if this was an Airbnb transaction.

Airbnb does not seem to Gadfly the BadGuy. (Gadfly does not feel the same way about Adams Advertising, but that is another story that apparently will have another chapter.)

What are the complaints?

“Historic residents filtered into City Hall to support restrictions on home-sharing, arguing that short-term visitors are staying in what essentially is a hotel in a residential district and ruining the character of the neighborhood and create parking, noise and safety concerns.”

Imagine if a hotel moved in next to you. Frequented sometimes by larger groups of people sometimes intent on partying.

Before we ever heard of Airbnb, one of our new neighbors – a young single woman — was renting a room in her house through Airbnb. We other neighbors were gretzy about parking, suspicious of comings and goings (usually late night), and – ha! – frankly gossipy about what exactly was going one. You can imagine.

We all have neighbors that throw big parties for Fourth of July or Labor Day, etc., and we grant them godspeed and hope for a beer or a hot dog out of them for a bit of inconvenience. But suppose the parties were every weekend?

What did the City do?

After some back-and-forths, City Council adopted this law December 5, 2017.

SHORT-TERM RENTAL LAW

  • Hosts must register with city, get homes inspected for $100 annually and keep a log of visitors and duration of their stays.
  • Homeowners can rent as two bedrooms in the house where they live for up to 30 consecutive days, provided they remain in the house while the rooms are rented.
  • Hosts who lease whole houses — and do not remain in the house — are barred from doing so for more than 30 consecutive days or 30 days in any calendar year.
  • Homeowners are barred from renting out whole houses for less than seven consecutive days.

Chew on this so far.

to be continued

Airbnb: Why Should We Care?

(2st in a series of posts on Airbnb/short-term rentals)

The Gadfly likes to be in at the beginning. And he’s not on what for this blog’s purposes we are calling the “Airbnb issue.”

There was a development in this issue yesterday, and we’ll get to that, but hold on for a post or two or three while Gadfly tries to wrap his wings around this issue, wonk fashion, that has been “brewing” (bad pun as you will see) for maybe two years.

In the last post Gadfly provided some basic sources to establish a timeline. Check it out. A wave of the wings to Morning Call reporters Nicole and Matt and Daryl for providing the framework for us.

The issue centers on neighbors’ reacting to a Bethlehem couple in the Northside historical district renting their home (and then homes) on a short-term basis.

First things first, why should the general “we” of the City care? Why is Gadfly spending time on this? Why should you read on if you don’t live in the Northside Historical District?

Good question, Gadfly.

And Gadfly answers that it has to do with the perfectly understandable concern over the nature of your neighborhood. Something everybody has or should have. Every time Gadfly uses that word “neighborhood,” he thinks with pleasure of Fred Rogers, “Mr. Rogers” (did you see the recent movie “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” and not cry?). It’s about the quality of life in your neighborhood, about caring for and about your neighborhood, and “control” of your neighborhood. This is or should be a concern across the City and has much wider implications than just Airbnb.

Mr. Gadfly’s neighborhood is changing. Has changed. Of the 15 houses in Gadfly’s block, 6 are now rentals. Porch palings are missing. Parking is harder. Some sidewalks want to hurt you. Mother Nature is a sidewalk snow-shoveler. Glaring, spooky feral cats have taken over the once carnival-like street (40 kids playing there at one point). Yards aren’t all that well taken care of. Gadfly’s lawn is “crop-circled” by dogs on leashes. Where have all the flowers gone? Some porches have become utility sheds. We were once a tree-shaded lane; now Gadfly’s tree (“Secundus,” since it is a replacement) stands alone, sole respecter of City ordinance.

Poor maudlin Gadfly. He doesn’t live in the Northside Historical District. But he gets it. We all should get it. Neighborhoods change one rented house, one dog pee at a time. Often imperceptible change. Till one day it’s too late. Gadfly gets it. We all should get it. And be invested in what happens in the Northside Historical District.

The Airbnb Controversy (1)

(1st in a series of posts on Airbnb)

Airbnb
Airbnb locations in Bethlehem

A‌i‌r‌b‌n‌b operates an online marketplace where members can offer lodging, primarily homestays, on a short-term basis.

—————————-

We’ll tag this the “Airbnb” issue for Gadfly purposes.

Gadfly needs to come up to speed on this one, so people interested in this issue should pitch in.

The basic situation is this. Through Airbnb, homeowners, who may or may not live fulltime in a house, rent rooms or the whole house on a short-term basis. Airbnb rentals might be anywhere in town, but the issue with them is acute in the Northside Historical District where speculators are buying houses and basically changing the character of the neighborhood. Residents complained to City Hall, which has responded with legislation. There has been a continued problem of enforcement of that legislation, however, and homeowners are fighting back. One owner (Brew and Williams) has sued the City over the validity of the ordinance on short-term rentals. Residents are upset. The City is trying to respond.

Timeline:

1) Nicole Radzievich and Matt Assad, “Airbnb ruffles feathers in historic Bethlehem neighborhood.” Morning Call, June16, 2017.
http://www.mcall.com/news/local/bethlehem/mc-historic-bethlehem-homes-airbnb-20170617-story.html

Contains video of the central figures — homeowners Jay Brew and Mary Ellen Williams

“The Uber of the hospitality market, Airbnb acts as an online broker, connecting people who need a place to stay with hosts who have a spare bedroom, apartment or a full house to rent. Rates tend to be lower than at hotels or traditional bed-and-breakfasts, in part because the rentals are harder to pin down for taxes. Hoteliers are pressuring city officials to level the playing field by taxing Airbnb enterprises and limiting where they can set up shop. Bethlehem officials are trying to figure out how to regulate the home-sharing businesses and fit them into zoning laws.”

2) Nicole Radzievich, “Bethlehem tackles home-sharing issue – Planners considering measure that would drop the number of rooms owners can rent out.” Morning Call, November 10, 2017.
http://www.mcall.com/news/local/bethlehem/mc-nws-bethlehem-hotel-home-sharing-20171109-story.html

“Neighbors in the historic district took issue with the Chandler House, a Market Street property that owners Dr. Mary Ellen Williams and Jay Brew bought next to their home and started renting on the Airbnb website. They also bought other homes nearby.”

3) Nicole Radzievich, “Council passes home-sharing regulations — Bethlehem tightens controls for short-term stays, including hosts must register properties.” Morning Call, November 22, 2017.
http://www.mcall.com/news/local/bethlehem/mc-nws-bethlehem-home-sharing-hearing-20171121-story.html

“Historic residents filtered into City Hall to support restrictions on home-sharing, arguing that short-term visitors are staying in what essentially is a hotel in a residential district and ruining the character of the neighborhood and create parking, noise and safety concerns.”

“Home-sharing hosts would need to register with Bethlehem and get their home inspected annually much the same way as landlords who rent homes to tenants under the regulated rental ordinance. The hosts would also have to keep a list of visitors and the duration of stay.”

“The regulations would allow any homeowner to rent as many as two bedrooms in the house where they live for up to 30 consecutive days. The owner must occupy the home under that arrangement.”

“The proposal would also allow owners to rent their entire primary residence for 30 consecutive days or 30 days within each calendar year. Under that arrangement, the owner would not have to be present.”

4) Daryl Nerl, “Bethlehem passes law regulating Airbnb rentals.” Morning Call, December 7, 2017.
http://www.mcall.com/news/local/bethlehem/mc-nws-bethlehem-home-sharing-vote-20171206-story.html

“An ordinance that places restrictions on Bethlehem homeowners who rent their bedrooms or houses to visitors through Airbnb and similar home-sharing platforms was adopted unanimously by City Council on Tuesday night.”

“In an amendment to the initial bill that council passed on first reading in November, homeowners are also barred from renting out whole houses for less than seven consecutive days — effectively limiting to four the number of times in any year that a house can be leased short-term.”


SHORT-TERM RENTAL LAW

  • Hosts must register with city, get homes inspected for $100 annually and keep a log of visitors and duration of their stays.
  • Homeowners can rent as two bedrooms in the house where they live for up to 30 consecutive days, provided they remain in the house while the rooms are rented.
  • Hosts who lease whole houses — and do not remain in the house — are barred from doing so for more than 30 consecutive days or 30 days in any calendar year.
  • Homeowners are barred from renting out whole houses for less than seven consecutive days.

5) Nicole Radzievich, “Bethlehem’s home-sharing ordinance challenged — Owners of Airbnb-listed properties file action — in county court. Morning Call, June 22, 2018.
http://www.mcall.com/news/local/bethlehem/mc-nws-bethlehem-home-sharing-ordinance-lawsuit-20180621-story.html

“Bethlehem’s fledgling home-sharing law, which cracked down on a trio of historic homes listed on the Airbnb website, is being challenged in Northampton County Court. The legal action filed Tuesday alleges the law, which includes a provision that short-term residential rentals be owner-occupied, should have been addressed through a zoning ordinance and that the city didn’t go that route because it would mean those existing rentals in the historic district would have been ‘grandfathered in’.”

“The business caused backlash among neighbors in the city’s original historic district prized for its large, ornate homes and proximity to Main Street. Among the chief critics was Hotel Bethlehem’s managing partner Bruce Haines, who once called that home-sharing business in the historic district ‘an extension of the hotel system’.”

“The city in June 2017 initially cited the owners for multiple zoning violations, arguing a bed and breakfast, hotel and rooming house were illegally being operated at the properties.”

“The city began work on a new ordinance that would regulate the home-sharing industry. The effort was championed at City Council meetings by many historic district residents who complained that homes were being essentially run as a hotel in a residential district, ruining the neighborhood’s character and creating parking, noise and safety concerns.”

6) There was significant discussion at the Sept 4 meeting, with City Solicitor Leeson weighing in on the seeming impotence and delays residents were experiencing. The minute of that meeting are not available yet.

7) Nicole Radzievich, “City to step up enforcement of home-sharing law – Bethlehem will have inspectors ‘on call’ Thurs. through Sun.” Morning Call, September 20, 2018.
http://www.mcall.com/news/local/bethlehem/mc-nws-bethlehem-short-term-lodging-enforcement-20180919-story.html

“Starting this weekend, Bethlehem is stepping up enforcement of a new law that regulates an emerging business where residences are rented out to overnight to visitors.”

“Mayor Robert Donchez announced this week he is putting his inspectors ‘on call Thursday and Friday evenings and on Saturday and Sunday to investigate complaints about possible violations of the short-term lodging ordinance which, among other things, requires the home be owner-occupied and licensed by the city.”

“The owner of those properties has also challenged the validity of the short-term lodging ordinance in Northampton County Court.”

8) There have been hearings in Northampton County Court and before local Judge Manwaring. I need details on these. There will be another magistrate Manwaring hearing October 5.