Lower Makefield OKs Airbnb permitting rules

By Bucks County Courier Times

Lower Makefield homeowners renting out space using online booking agencies will need a permit following new regulations in the township approved last week.

Supervisors voted 4-1 Wednesday in favor of an ordinance regulating short-term rentals and requiring property owners using websites like Airbnb to get township approval or face a $1,000 fine and up to 90 days in jail.

Supervisor Kristin Tyler opposed the ordinance, continuing her sole opposition to the regulations.

The permit allows owners to rent their entire home, or up to two bedrooms in a single property.

Homeowners do not need to occupy the property if renting the entire house, but they cannot book any single renter for less than seven days.

Homeowners also are not allowed to rent out to the same person more than 30 days in a single year, the ordinance states.

Specific bedroom rentals can be as short as a single day, but the property owner has to occupy the house when rooms are rented.

A renter can book a single bedroom for up to 30 consecutive days under the ordinance.

The ordinance also defines a renter, or “transient visitor,” as an occupant of a dwelling unit “for not more than 30 days.”

The township will also require owners to submit a floor plan for their properties when applying for the permit, including locations of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, the ordinance states.

A permit is only good for the calendar year it is issued in, and only one type of accommodation will be allowed at a single property, the ordinance adds.If a homeowner receives a permit to rent an entire home, for instance, but decides later to rent only a single bedroom, they would need to apply for a new permit.

Homeowners with non-permitted rentals are subject to a $1,000 fine for the first offense, and up to 90 days in jail for subsequent offenses.

Tyler said she opposed the ordinance as she felt it did not address concerns residents raised about noise and other problems stemming from renters of a few properties in the township.

“I am troubled that we are enforcing an ordinance that seems to be targeting a particular homeowner. I am troubled that the homeowners who have Airbnbs were not notified of this meeting,” Tyler said.

“I think we have other ways to address the concerns that our residents brought us,” she added.

The regulations come after a string of contentious zoning board meetings involving an 11-bedroom home in the township rented online by multiple people.

The board upheld the homeowners’ appeal of a cease-and-desist notice following complaints about problem renters at the property, finding the use not in violation of local zoning laws.

Township Solicitor David Truelove said Wednesday that the possible jail sentence is an option for the township in only an “extreme example where somebody flaunted the regulations” repeatedly.

Truelove added that the change is “more regulatory than prohibitive,” unlike other communities that have addressed online rentals through zoning ordinance changes.

With online rentals still a relatively new market, the rights of property owners and their neighbors are still being hashed out in state courts, Truelove said.

“I’m not going to say that (the ordinance) is not going to be subject to a legal challenge; I think it’s less likely that this (ordinance) is going to be subject to a successful legal challenge than a zoning ordinance,” Truelove added.

Truelove added that zoning ordinances either allow or prohibit a use on a property, while a permitting requirement regulates a use without saying where it can or cannot be done in the township.

Supervisor Chair John Lewis called the ordinance “less restrictive” than actions in other communities, and added the ordinance spurred from issues with multiple properties.

Lewis added there were at least 15 properties being rented out in Lower Makefield on Airbnb’s website just prior to Wednesday’s meeting.

Lewis also reiterated comments from other supervisors that the ordinance “strikes a balance” between the neighbors and owners of online rental properties.

Short-term rentals are not considered commercial hotels or bed-and-breakfast uses under township zoning laws.

Tyler and at least one other resident at Wednesday’s meeting raised concerns over possible legal challenges to the ordinance, but Lewis said if officials only acted on items free from “potential litigation” then “we wouldn’t get anything done.”

Several residents who also spoke Wednesday were in favor of the ordinance.

As for the cost of the permits, township officials said Thursday those fees were pending supervisor approval in an upcoming resolution.

This article provided by NewsEdge.