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AMHERST TIMES: Buffalo, Amherst weigh new rules and regulations for Airbnb hosts


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Airbnb hosts in Buffalo and Amherst soon may have to follow new rules if they want to open up their homes to visitors.

The city and the region's largest suburb for the past few months have discussed whether and how to regulate Airbnb, an online platform that lets people rent out their homes and apartments to travelers on a short-term basis.

Buffalo and Amherst officials say they're not trying to get rid of Airbnb but, instead, want to impose some structure to the service. The leaders are working together because they want a consistent set of rules for the city and town.

"There's over 40 towns and villages, and cities, within Erie County. If every single one has different regulations, it's very confusing," said Joel P. Feroleto, who represents the Delaware district on the Common Council.

Coincidentally, the Village of Williamsville also is exploring its own rules for Airbnb hosts. All three communities say guest safety is a primary concern.

They're focusing on plans to register, inspect and license any Airbnb property. They're also discussing whether to limit the locations of Airbnb homes, in response to complaints from some neighbors.
Owners of hotels and bed-and-breakfasts frequently complain that Airbnb hosts have an unfair advantage. They would welcome the regulations and, further, want Erie County to collect the bed tax from them.

Some Airbnb hosts say they would accept regulation, and the tax payments, but others say they feel singled out. The hosts say they help, not harm, their communities.

"The tourism end of it is amazing for Buffalo," said Therese Forton-Barnes, an event planner who has rented out her Elmwood Village home for four or five years on Airbnb.

Buffalo has 350 Airbnb hosts
Airbnb started in 2008 and now has more than five million listings in 81,000 communities around the world, according to the company.

It's the most popular of a number of home-sharing services available today. Airbnb connects guests to hosts, allowing travelers to focus their searches by neighborhood, room size, cost, amenities, pet-friendliness and other factors.

Both hosts and guests rate each other after the rental experience, and hosts typically do whatever they can to earn and maintain a high star rating.

Buffalo was second to New York City this summer in statewide Airbnb use, with 350 hosts handling about 29,000 guest arrivals, the company reported. Statewide, 1.2 million guests used the service this summer, up from 933,000 the year before. On average, New York hosts earned $4,100 this summer, up from $3,400 last year.

Airbnb rentals in Buffalo have 35,000 guest reviews and received an average 4.7 out of 5 stars. The 300-plus homes that are available rent for an average of $101 per night.

Summer is the busiest time of year for Airbnb hosts here. Rupinder Jatana said in July and August this year there were only a handful of days each month when the room she rents out was vacant.
Jatana, a stay-at-home mother, and her husband, Navpreet, rent out the top floor in their three-story home in Parkside. Rupinder Jatana said renting out the space on a short-term basis allows them to keep a place for visiting relatives to stay while earning some income at other times.

Jatana said they have to keep the space clean and furnished with everything from towels to toiletries and cereal. The space has two bedrooms and a full kitchen and Jatana rents it for $120 per night in the summer for six people.

She said she earns an average of $900 per month, after expenses, from Airbnb rentals.

"That's why I say Airbnb in Buffalo isn't uber-lucrative," Jatana said.

Forton-Barnes rents out part, or all, of her Elmwood Village home. She, like Jatana, is an Airbnb superhost, meaning they've met the highest hospitality benchmarks set by the company.

Forton-Barnes charges $160 per night, for two people, for the smaller rental and $900 per night for the entire house, which has five bedrooms and can hold up to 12 guests.

She said people coming into town for weddings, high school reunions and Bills games are some of the most common guests she hosts, with some business travelers during the week.

Some cities regulate
Though Airbnb sets its own rules that hosts must follow, the system operates here largely without government regulation, officials said.

Other cities have enacted tough regulations.

Paris, one of the largest Airbnb markets in the world, requires hosts to register their properties and adhere to a limit on the number of days the property can be rented. One lawmaker now wants to ban Airbnb from the city center, saying the room-sharing service is taking over the neighborhoods near tourist attractions.

And Miami bars short-term rentals in most of its residential neighborhoods, limiting them to South Beach and other areas popular with tourists. Violators face stiff fines, and the city recently pressed Airbnb and other platforms to enforce its regulations, or face their own consequences, Feroleto noted.
The Buffalo Common Council held a hearing on the question in early 2017, after the owner of a bed and breakfast complained about the proliferation of the service here. The Council formed a group to study Airbnb, but the city did not put any new rules in place.

Originally published on Amherst Times. Republished with permission.

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