Voters May Decide the Future of Airbnb in Jersey City

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Newark Avenue Downtown Jersey City
Newark Avenue, Downtown Jersey City. Photo by Jared Kofsky/Jersey Digs.

The battle to regulate short-term rentals in New Jersey’s second-largest city doesn’t appear to be dying down and if nothing changes by the start of the fall season, a ballot initiative will likely put the question to voters.

Earlier this year, Jersey City’s council put forth an ordinance that would severely limit a property owner’s ability to rent out a room or apartment via a short-term rental service such as Airbnb. A version of the legislation passed in June ended up being less strict but still places substantial restrictions on short-term rentals. It is scheduled to take effect on January 1 next year.

The final ordinance, co-sponsored by council members James Solomon and Mira Prinz-Arey, completely bans tenants from subletting their place as a short-term rental and caps short-term rentals at 60 days for property owners who are not on site. Short-term rentals won’t be allowed at any building containing four or more units, and existing short-term rental contracts will be phased out by January 1, 2021.

Property owners will be required to obtain a permit through the city’s Division of Housing Preservation under the ordinance and each permit is valid for one year and must be renewed annually. The legislation against short-term rentals was an about-face for Jersey City, who in 2015 became one of the first cities in the world to legalize Airbnb-style rentals.

Co-sponsors of the ordinance have argued that in addition to quality of life complaints, short-term rentals are making it difficult for residents to obtain permanent housing during a time of low vacancies throughout the city. But Airbnb and others have noted that the city has generated $4 million in revenue since 2015 from the hotel tax that’s applied to short-term rentals.

Airbnb says there are over 3,100 listings on their site located in Jersey City. “The vast majority of these listings are properties into which local residents have invested thousands or even millions of dollars to restore or maintain them,” the company said in a press release, also noting that the short-term rental community in Jersey City welcomed 181,000 guests last year.

Airbnb says their records show Jersey City’s property owners made a total of $32 million last year by sharing their spaces through short-term rentals. It’s that community that has risen up to challenge the newly passed ordinance, as Pix 11 reported that a petition with 20,000 signatures was dropped off at City Hall last week in support of repealing the measure.

Any petition looking to overturn an ordinance in Jersey City needs more than 6,700 signatures to be considered, or about equal to 15% of ballots cast in the 2017 municipal election. Councilman James Solomon, one of the ordinance’s co-sponsors, says that he has no intentions of repealing the ordinance.

“I’m confident that a lot of people have seen negative effects when the house next door to them has sort of turned into a party rental,” Solomon told the Jersey Journal. “People have seen negative impacts by these investors and sort of corporate people coming in buying up huge chunks of property and turning them to Airbnbs and basically, unstaffed hotels and neighborhoods taking away apartments from long-term renters.”

If the ordinance stays on the books and enough of the signatures on the petition are deemed legitimate, a public question on the ordinance would be placed on the ballot during November’s election. There were two efforts in California involving petitions last year that caused anti-Airbnb efforts to be overturned. An ordinance to curb short-term rentals in San Diego led to a referendum that caused that city’s council to repeal the regulations. In Palm Springs, signatures on a petition led to a ballot question on restricting short-term rentals getting defeated by 70 percent of voters.

Short-term rentals remain legal in Jersey City for now and they appear to be more popular than ever with travelers. Airbnb says Jersey City welcomed approximately 6,300 short-term guests over the July 4th weekend, which was up from 4,300 guests during the same time last year.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Incomplete reporting. Two of the main issues have been left out. Namely the cost of the yearly permit, and the question of how much personal host information that can be collected by city agencies which was ruled a violation of the 4th amendment by a NYC Federal Court earlier this year. It was also previously reported that an AirBnB host would be denied an operating permit if they received litter or noise violations which seems beyond ridiculous.

  2. Put it on the November ballot and let the people decide. These politicians are all alike. What they think is best is good for all. Its on both sides of the isle. Dems and the Republicans .
    Term limits are the answer in every level of government

  3. Having had the experience of one of these unstaffed hotels opening up next door I can tell that it is like having a commercial hotel parachuted into your back yard or into your condo building.

    Transient guests coming and going, but without the security and oversight that a traditional hotel employs. These unstaffed Airbnb hotels bring persistent noise, parties, and in our case repeated drug use and calls to and visits from the police.

    And the absentee hotel operators are none the wiser because they are not there and in our case simply don’t care how their unstaffed operation impacts the neighbors/neighborhood. They but the burden on the neighbors to uphold safety

    When you see a group leaving from the airbnb hotel, you worry what the next group is going to be like – if you are in luck it may be a family visiting, but it may also be a large group of menacing young men. It’s hard to believe the kinds of groups it attracts until you experience it.

    Renting out a room in your home, or an apartment within your primary residence when you are present or for a limited time when you are away is one thing and ok. I have friends and family doing this, and unlike absentee airbnb hotel operators, they experience the behavior/impact of their guests first hand and ensure that house rules are followed and things stay calm. The new ordinance allows for this kind of sub-letting to continue.

    But Airbnb is not primarily about sharing ones’ home anymore. These absentee airbnb hotels that are opening up like mushrooms all over JC are in fact hotels, plain and simple. These businesses should operate in commercial districts, but being businesses, they should not be allowed to operate in neighborhoods zoned as residential. The operations degrade the neighborhood and make Jersey City a worse place to live for its actual residents.

    The new ordinances target these large-scale commercial Airbnb hotel operations. And as long as we, the Jersey City residents, take the time to understand the ordinance instead of drinking the Kool-Aid served by the vested interest of the Airbnb lobbying campaign, I am confident that Jersey City voters will uphold this ordinance.

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