WINTERSVILLE — Residents’ concerns about Airbnbs brought a local representative to the state legislature to Thursday’s Wintersville council meeting to discuss pending legislation that would protect owners of such establishments.
State Rep. Ron Ferguson, R-Wintersville, told council he co-sponsored, with others, House Bill 563 to protect citizens’ right to operate bed and breakfasts , called Airbnbs because they can be booked via the Internet, and other short-term rentals on their property.
He noted that Airbnbs had been banned in some places.
Ferguson said the intention is to prohibit local governments from discriminating against them by imposing unestablished regulations for hotels or other long-term rental properties.
Council had heard earlier at the same meeting from Shelly Fulcinetti, a resident of Garden Drive, who said noise from an Airbnb on her street had caused repeated disturbances over a two-week period and that on one occasion an aisle had been blocked by a large bus carrying people. the site.
She suggested that the presence of an Airbnb could hurt the value of neighboring properties and wondered if any security measures were taken by their owners.
Fulcinetti noted that hotels require guests to present a driver’s license and employ 24-hour staff while maintaining indoor and outdoor security measures. She said Airbnb owners may not be present while their guests are there.
Councilman Jason Mattern said Fulcinetti was one of many who raised concerns with him.
He cited news reports of several crimes that have occurred at Airbnbs in recent years.
Among them was a shooting at an Airbnb in Pittsburgh in which two people were killed and several others injured among about 200 people who attended a party there.
Another shooting at an Airbnb in California left five people dead and a man was killed in Florida at an aibnb that turned out to be a front for drug trafficking.
Ferguson said there have been many more such incidents at long-term rental facilities and that existing laws prohibit such activity.
He added that village ordinances regarding noise, parking and other issues may apply to short-term rentals as long as they do not distinguish between them.
In response to such incidents, executives of Airbnb, an internet platform through which owners of short-term rentals can advertise, banned people under the age of 25 from listing properties and threatened a fine of $500 for those who organize gatherings of more than 16 people.
The organization has also set up a hotline through which neighbors can report suspicious parties.
Ferguson said there is legislation pending in another state that appears to give local governments the right to shut down Airbnbs after a number of violations.
He said there was no such language in House Bill 563, although it could be added when it goes through the state Senate, which he expects. to see in November.
Councilor Gael Damron said she understands the intent of the bill was to protect landlords’ rights “but we need to be able to hold that owner accountable so that safety is maintained.”
Damron said that if an Airbnb is not the owner’s primary residence, “Who is going to be there to make sure these types of acts don’t happen?”
Ferguson acknowledged that courts in states where Airbnbs have been challenged have held that a distinction cannot be made between which are primary residences and which are not.
But he added that most are owned by individuals looking to supplement their main income.
Councilman Randy Spence said while he doesn’t want Airbnb in his neighborhood, he understands the spirit of the law.
“If the government tells us what we can do with our property, where is it going to stop? » he said.
When the issue of regulations arose, Village Solicitor noted that some major cities had established a registry for all rental properties.
Pittsburgh is a city that requires owners of rental properties to keep a guest registry and provide an emergency contact number to authorities.
Mattern said of any future action the board may take, “We want to do this properly and fairly and we want to. this to work long term.
Following the meeting, he said he and others had no objection to quiet bed and breakfasts that might accommodate visitors to the Franciscan University of Steubenville or the area for other reasons, but worried about those who present themselves as “party houses”.
In other cases counsel:
– Approved the final reading of an ordinance prohibiting pets from being kept outdoors at temperatures below 32 degrees or above 90 degrees, even when shelter is available
— Approved the last reading of an ordinance increasing the starting hourly wage of full-time police officers in the village from $16 to $17, after six months of probation; and for part-time officers, who do not receive benefits, $16 to $19.
– Approved $4,900 for metal roof for gazebo on Winters Drive, $11,232 for new gazebo at Tot Lot on Garden Drive.
— Agreed to refer to the Ordinances Committee a proposal by Mayor Mike Petrella to increase court fees for those appearing in Mayor’s Court from $85 to $100.