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A Vote Against Airbnb Is A Vote Against The People

07-11-2017 09:04 am
Michael A. Raspantini


Huntington Town Democrats Seek Increased Regulation of Private Property 

 

 

Tim Jurik is a life-long Huntington resident, residing with his family in Huntington Station. Like millions of people around the world, Tim enjoys the use of Airbnb, and feels that governmental regulation of his home because of Airbnb is a violation of American Constitutional rights. He along with others in the "Airbnb Hosts of Huntington" group have grown frustrated with the long list of private property regulation, and over regulation including investment property regulations handed to Huntington residents these last 5 years from the Huntington Town Board. Last night, after repeaded attempts to communicate with our elected Town Council, Mr. Jurik contacted the Huntington Buzz.

 

"I am getting no response from Mark Cuthbertson," Jurik told the Buzz as he forwarded all email correspondence from Town Hall to the Huntington Buzz.

 

The Huntington Buzz left a voicemail with Councilman Cuthbertson's office. No response was received by press time. 

 

58-year old Anita Weinchenk, another Airbnb user said,"I'm not a Republican but the Democrats in this Town are squeezing us to death. First it was Tracey Edwards' investment property bill, now Airbnb. Enough is enough!" Councilwoman Edwards' bill landed the Town in hot water as landlords teamed up to serve and file suit against the Town. "I sold my house in Huntington and my husband and I use Airbnb for temporary accomodations before we close on our new house in Florida," she said. "My husband and I have worked in real-estate all our lives. I pray for folks in Huntington. If something doesn't change and fast, the people here won't be left with a cent. What is happening in Huntington is 'Wrong-Way' legislation."

 

The Huntington Buzz contacted Airbnb corporate and spoke with Field Mobilizer Jeffrey Sellers.

 

"Huntington is a great Long Island community, and based on our metrics, it is still quite the vibrant tourist attraction, something the community once thrived on back in the 1950s." Airbnb has fought many battles in local communitites concerning house-sharing, particularily in New York City where some landlords have preferred using Airbnb to signing leases with tenants. "Huntington just isn't that type of community," Sellers said. "We have found that Airbnb is a great solution for this community because there are only about 70 active hosts, a very small number, who open up their homes to travelers in a town where no affordable hotel or motel exists in it's business center." A crucial point. There is no affordable hotel or motel in Huntington Village. 

 

Current legislation presetnted by Mark Cuthbertson and Tracey Edwards would again land the Town in yet another heated legal battle as the Town will seek a "Who's who" registry of persons entering your home. This was further confirmed at the last Town Board meeting in June when Town Attorney Cindy Elan-Mangano said, "We will supeona the hosts and get their guests information the same way we would any hotel."

 

This, according to Airbnb's Jeff Sellers, has set the Town up for yet another losing battle as Airbnb has already won on such cases in Federal court. "When the Town of Huntington is taken to task on this [legislation] they had better set aside the $25 million dollar retainer it needs to defend itself against a Constitutional lawsuit."

 

Edwards & Cuthbertson began scaring the community back in February when they first announced an outright ban on Airbnb coupled with pending violation fees and prosecution against Huntington home owners. The Public Hearing that followed showed and outpouring of Huntington residents standing against Edwards & Cuthbertson's bill. Not one person stood up to complain about Airbnb, or home sharing at all. One Huntington Millenial got up and spoke to the board saying,

 

"This is a new era. This is a new age. Being against Airbnb is like being against factories during the Industrial Revolution."

 

"The biggest problem with Airbnb reguation in Huntington, is that there is no problem at all," said Weinchenk. "The problem is the Town Board. It's time for a change."

 

 

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Email from Tim Jurik to the Huntington Buzz

 

Dear Huntington Buzz staff

 
The airbnb "problem"
 
As you may be aware, the town council is considering a proposal to require permits and impose limits on the rights of residents regarding short term rentals (the anti-AirBnB regulation sponsored by Mark Cuthbertson.)
 
I was made aware of the proposed outright ban in January and attended the public hearing at which scores of people let the board know just how wrong this idea was.  Not one public comment was made in support of the ban.  Mark Cuthbertson opened the discussion by stating that they suggested a ban simply because that was "the easiest way to write the legislation."  I was appalled at that statement then, and I am appalled now at how the council is proceeding with their modified version in spite of overwhelming outcry against it and no justification for the regulation.  
 
I was unable to attend the June public hearing regarding the matter as I was out of town, but I did ask for a copy of the new proposal.  I received one from Mr. Cuthbertson's office.  What I read is still incredibly troublesome.  It contains clauses that are clear violations of the 4th amendment and the rest is full of ambiguities, unjustified limitation of our property rights and arbitrary limits of use.  
 
Attempts to find out more, get information, talk to Mr. Cuthbertson
 
I have sent emails to all the board members, the town attorney's office and the supervisor.  The emails contained my opinion of the proposal as well as a number of questions about the interpretation of the proposed code.  Only two council offices acknowledged receipt of the emails. None provided answers to questions or a justification with data about the supposed complaints.
 
I visited Mr. Cuthbertson's office twice and emailed to ask for a meeting so that he could explain why this is so important that it needs to be addressed in town code.  I have not gotten a response for that request.  I have had email correspondence with someone from his staff.
 
I have not gotten a response to my questions  (See forwarded email sent under separate cover)
 
Questions
 
Specifically, I asked the following:
 
- How many complaints has the town received that are specific to short term rentals?  
- How many unique properties do the complaints comprise?
- How many of those would not be covered under town code violations (or other state, county laws)
(My FOIL request for information about all code complaints indicated that there are about 4000 total complaints each year.)
- What would be the status of Warmshowers use under this proposal?
- What would the status be for house swapping with no money exchanged?
 
No Supporting Evidence has been provided
 
It is very troubling to me that the council wants to pass new legislation that severely limits people's rights but has not shown one piece of evidence that this is at all necessary or that it would have any effect on the ostensible reason for the legislation.  
 
Aren't all complaints already covered under existing laws?
 
I've been having a hard time understanding why new legislation is needed since any complaint I can think of is covered by existing NY State and Suffolk County laws as well as the Town of Huntington code (noise, parking, etc)  
 
If there are behaviors that are problematic why would the town single out such a minuscule population? (I think only 70 properties are listed on airbnb)  
 
Lawsuit(s)
 
The town is already defending a lawsuit regarding its rental permitting requirements.  If this new anti-airbnb regulation gets passed I am certain there will be another lawsuit.  Spending taxpayer money to defend another lawsuit for a poorly defined regulation that doesn't seem to address an important issue seems like a really bad idea to me.  
 
Data
The public safety office which handles town complaints doesn't have a category for "short term rental" complaints. Of the roughly 4000 complaints last year and the 2000 complaints at the end of June 2017 they could not say how many were related to "short term rentals"  Mr Cuthbertson's office claimed that they receive anonymous complaints about short term rentals but when pressed on specifics I got no substantive response.  .They did not indicate to me how many they received and how many unique properties were involved.  All the answers I got regarding the need for the regulation and the complaints were vague and non-specific.
 
I've been told that there are 70 airbnb properties listed in Huntington (numbers from airbnb).  If we assume half of them had complaints (An outrageously high number given the overwhelming turnout at the hearings in support of allowing people to continue with airbnb) that would be 35 complaints.  That would mean that less than one percent of all complaints to the town have to do with airbnb.  It strikes me as a waste of time, money and energy working on legislation that is statistically unimportant.  It's also clear from the turnout at the public meetings that the overwhelming public opinion is against this regulation.  
 
The big question
 
So why, oh why, is the council dead set on more regulation?  It makes no sense.
 
Perhaps your staff can find out more information and get an audience with a council member to get answers.  My attempts have been unsuccessful.
 
Regards,
Tim

 

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Email from Tim Jurik to Councilman Mark Cuthbertson's office:

 

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Tim Jurik <tim.jurik@gmail.com>
Date: Thu, Jul 6, 2017 at 12:21 PM
Subject: Airbnb legislation next step(s)? Request for time with councilman/other council members
To: Stephen Jimenez <SJimenez@huntingtonny.gov>
Cc: MCuthbertson@huntingtonny.gov


 

Hi Stephen,
 
Can you let me know what the next step is for the proposed airbnb legislation?  
 
Is there another hearing?  
 
Have there been changes since the last proposal you sent me?
 
I'd like to get an appointment with Councilman Cuthbertson and/or any other council members and discuss why they feel it is so important to have more restrictions on town residents.
 
I'd like to discuss the underlying basis for the proposed law and get a firm answer why the existing town code does not cover the intent.  
 
I still have not gotten real answers for the following questions:
 
- How many complaints has the town received that are specific to short term rentals?  
- How many unique properties do they complaints comprise?
- How many of those would not be covered under town code violations (or other state, county laws)
(My FOIL request for information about all code complaints indicated that there are about 4000 total complaints each year.)
- What would be the status of Warmshowers use under this proposal?
- What would the status be for house swapping with no money exchanged?
 
I had a few more but those are a good starting point.  
 
To reiterate - I find it very hard to believe that it is worth passing new legislation that will guarantee a lawsuit against the town given my understanding that the relative scope of the problem is so limited and there are already town codes that address most if not all of the complaints.  (Complaints that I have yet to see proof of)
 
Feel free to call me to set up an appointment.  
 
 
regards,
Tim

 

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