Community claims hasty decision could adversely affect Jersey City rental market

Jersey City resident Nadia Sexton and her family have lived in the same home for over a decade while renting out a basement apartment.

“It was always part of the math to have that rented out,” Sexton said.

But she’s worried a new city council ordinance placing restrictions on short-term rentals could eliminate their ability to keep it on the market with host-site Airbnb and supplement their income.

“The way this process unfolded, it was so quick and an ordinance was already written by a committee that was unknown and didn’t include a host,” Sexton said.

The new regulations come after a marathon city council meeting that lasted nine hours and ultimately resulted in new rules. The rules will, among other things, require permits and inspections for short-term rentals and place an annual 60-day cap on a property rental when the owner isn’t physically on site. It also bars Airbnb or other vacation rental sites in buildings with more than four units. With more than 3,100 Airbnb listings in Jersey City alone, it’s a move the city says will increase landlord accountability and prevent hotel-like scenarios in apartment buildings.

“I’m a big supporter of home-sharing, and home-sharing means that somebody will rent out one apartment or one bedroom within their home. The intent of this was never that somebody would buy two, three, four, five brownstones in a row or in a neighborhood and create this cottage industry of hotels that impact quality of life. It’s not approved via zoning, it’s not allowed and it’s not right,” said Mayor Steve Fulop.

But short-term rental agencies like Airbnb argue the good actors will be punished because of the bad. They point to an already overburdened city government with backlogged agencies, adding they were never invited to the table.

“We have serious concerns. We think that the ordinance was passed in a fairly opaque and politicized manner. One that didn’t really allow for significant input from the short-term rental community who are going to feel the brunt of these restrictions,” said Liz DeBold Fusco, senior communications manager for Airbnb.

Rather, Fusco says the short-term rental community wants a hand in writing a new ordinance. She says they aren’t opposed to all regulations, like baring affordable housing units from being rented or restricting the revolving-door issue that’s caused quality of life problems.

“Thousands of residents invested, in some cases their life savings, into restoring their properties, maintaining their properties, investing in their communities and they’re not going to recoup that if this ordinance moves forward,” she said.

But they also take issue with a ban on renters operating their own short-term lease, adding that will hurt the bottom line for both residents, local businesses and the $4 million in tax revenue its brought the city. In all, local residents made $32 million by sharing their properties on Airbnb in 2018 alone.

“Airbnb is not interested in the Jersey City tax rate or our taxpayers. Airbnb is interested in making money for Airbnb investors,” Fulop said. “To me, there are rules in place that restrict somebody from setting up a hotel or motel in the middle of a block. Why should this be any different?”

Opponents like Airbnb are collecting signatures right now for their petition to launch a referendum and repeal the ordinance. They’ll have just two weeks to get it done.