Voters to decide future of Airbnb, short-term rentals in Jersey City

Briana Vannozzi, Anchor | October 11, 2019

Jersey City resident Anand Jagadeesan rents out an Airbnb that sits above his family home. With its location and large layout, he makes upwards of $35,000 in a good year. He says he relies on that supplemental income for his family.

“I have a son who is in school that I fund entirely. And my second son has a disability and we take care of him by providing many of the therapies and additional activities that are not necessarily covered by insurance,” said Jagadeesan.

So much so that last March, Jagadeensan bought a second property several blocks from his home to rent. However, an ordinance put in place last summer caps short-term rentals at 60 days if the owner doesn’t live on site. That’s one reason hosts and Airbnb adamantly oppose a ballot question keeping that rule and several others in place.

“If you are a renter, you cannot rent your apartment on Airbnb or on any short-term rental platform. That’s 70% of Jersey City residents who are cut out from this economy. And then on top of that, you can’t have a short-term rental in any building with more than four units,” said Airbnb spokesperson Liz DeBold Fusco.

The barrage of commercials, online ads and mailers are inescapable in the city. Millions of dollars have been spent and residents are divided. Those opposed to the ordinance petitioned more than 20,000 signatures to let voters decide this November. Neighbors in favor of regulations lay out a litany of problems it’s caused neighborhoods.

“There were about 300 listings on any given night here in Jersey City and we thought that was a reasonable number. And, it was done in the truest sense of what home sharing is where people were sharing their second bedroom or vacant apartment in their homes. Now, that number has grown in four years to more than 3,000 listings on any given night,” Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop said.

“We have friends who had to leave their apartment with their pets and the whole floor of their beautiful building had to leave for two days because the whole place had to be fumigated when there were bedbugs in the Airbnb apartment that had repeated visitors. So apparently they had repeatedly rented it to people with bedbugs. Now that’s an extreme, but what that says is there needs to be some kind of regulation,” said Jersey City resident Gib Westby-Gibson.

At a recent news conference, Jersey City public safety officials detailed numerous calls involving Airbnb properties.

“Recently we had another gas leak in the Heights section of the city where the owner illegally lofted an apartment and made it into three separate apartments and was doing it all on Airbnb. Had we responded there as a normal single family home, you expect to find three or four people. Now we have a maze. There’s no means of egress,” said Peter Nowak, president of the Jersey City Fire Officers Association.

“We run background checks on every guest, every host. We provide 24/7 customer service. Incidents are extraordinarily rare, less than .01% of the time. It’s actually less, there’s a few zeros in there that I’m missing. Safety is one of our top priorities,” said Fusco.

Hosts like Jagadeesan say the rules could cost him his life’s savings as he’s used them to buy a second property.

The future of short-term rentals in Jersey City could determine how it plays out in the rest of the country. It all comes down to a vote.