Unrest in NYC about B&Bs – A Lesson for Innkeepers?
This past week I was glad to lend a hand to a PAII member asking for help. Vinessa Milando, owner of Ivy Terrace B&B in New York, NY, informed me about a bill (click here for bill’s full text) that had just made it through the New York State Senate that would essentially make illegal all short-term lodging facilities that were not bona fide hotels, i.e. B&Bs and vacation rentals. The law, if signed by Governor David Paterson, would make it illegal for a property owner of an apartment, condo, B&B, etc., to take money from guests who stay less than 30 days. But the issue brings up a touchy subject – the lack of laws, regulations and/or ordinances that properly define B&Bs.
In New York City, it seems that those who have been running B&Bs out of residential buildings have been able to do so because the language that described their type of dwelling was vague enough to allow for it. Since 2003, according to Milando, innkeepers came forward and began paying the city’s occupancy taxes – just like hotels. Supporters of the bill argue that loud, obnoxious, dirty tourists don’t mix well with “permanent” residents in the city, where permanent housing is apparently scarce. And, they’re saying that some property owners are scamming tourists into unsafe places. With the quick rise of the vacation rental market and sites like Craigslist, where it’s easy to advertise a couch or room for rent, there is no doubt going to be scammers and irresponsible purveyors out there. But I would imagine that the lion share of travelers and those who operate B&Bs and vacation rentals are legitimate people wanting to do the right thing. A law like this should not pass on account of the rotten apples, because the law would essentially kill ALL the apples – the proverbial baby AND bath water.
Property owners (innkeepers among them) quickly rallied this past week and certainly got their message out. Check out www.protect-vacation-rentals.com to see what they were able to do, including rallying 500 folks at City Hall. I wrote a letter to Governor Paterson urging him to veto the bill (he’s mentioned an intent to veto, but you never know) and to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who supports the bill, maybe due to heavy ear-bending by the hotel lobby. TripAdvisor CEO, Steve Kaufer, also submitted a letter to the Governor. Several main stream press have been covering the story, such as USA Today, New York Times, Budget Travel and more.
I’m not saying that the current situation with ambiguous language is the right solution. Those who want to be legitimate B&B operators and legitimate owners of vacation rental properties should be allowed to make a living from such activity, but it seems to serve everyone’s interests well in a city like the Big Apple when clear language allowing and defining a B&B or similar lodging property is codified. Such codification is not necessary in all towns and cities across North America. But if you find yourself in a possibly vulnerable situation due to there being no language that acknowledges your existence and that treats you appropriately (we’re not hotels, remember) and fairly, then you should get proactive and try to get something in place. Some might say, “Let a sleeping dog like,” but I say you might want to wake that sleeping dog, but have a leach and doggie treat ready in hand. Don’t wait for some rogue councilman or legislator to introduce something harmful on account of an interest that might not be in line with your own interests.