SARATOGA SPRINGS — The city's Department of Public Safety announced Tuesday it is drafting a proposal that would require short-term rental properties to register with the city, perhaps by September.
Deputy Commissioner John Daley said a rising trend of noise and parking complaints that began in 2015 was driven by short-term rentals year-round, not just during track season.
Platforms such as Airbnb and VRBO facilitate short-term rentals. As of Tuesday, Daley said there were 267 properties listed on Airbnb in the city and more than 300 additional listings surrounding Saratoga Springs.
"The bulk of them are concentrated downtown," he said. "These properties largely aren't subjected to the same building and fire codes that average residential buildings are."
Daley said those who operate short-term rental properties would have to pay an undetermined amount to register with the city, comply with building and fire codes and designate local property managers to handle any situations that arise while tenants occupy their properties.
"We want to allow short-term rentals to continue," he said. "We just want to do it safely."
Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan said on Tuesday that the department is in the process of putting together a resolution to send to Saratoga County, with the intent of implementing an occupancy tax on short-term rental properties.
"We've seen hotel occupancy tax stay flat, while these properties have skyrocketed," she said.
In 2017, the city collected $480,187 in hotel occupancy tax revenue, compared with $483,147 in 2016 and $483,557 in 2015.
Saratoga Springs resident Kathy Jaques, who has been listing a short-term rental property on Airbnb for the past three years, said she pays federal and state taxes on the income she makes from Airbnb.
"I understand that the county wants a piece of the pie," she said. "Part of the reason people [rent out their properties] is to help pay their taxes, which is ironic. But fair is fair."
Jaques said she hopes the occupancy tax will be lower than what hotels pay.
"We're not running a business in the same way as hotels," she said. "I have concerns that the little guy will lose out in the end, and that makes me nervous.
"I hope this isn't to favor the hotels and that it's a concerted effort to be fair to everyone."
Christine Marchesiello, a Saratoga Springs Airbnb host, said it's understandable for the city and county to implement regulations and an occupancy tax.
"There are income tax requirements that allow you to rent a property short-term for up to two weeks with no tax implications, so maybe a similar approach might make sense in terms of occupancy tax as well," she said. "I think the code issue will be much more difficult to enforce, and I’m not sure how realistic that is. However, I do understand that cities need to at least attempt to implement this."
Marchesiello, a real estate agent with Keller Williams Realty, added that prospective home-buyers look at each property's rental potential now more than two years ago.
"I think that people will continue to do what they have always done, no matter what the city decides," she said.
Alex Tucker, general manager at Saratoga Casino Hotel, also welcomed the city's move.
"While it's difficult to measure the exact impact these short-term rental properties have on our hotel occupancy, we do support the city in taking steps that create a level playing field for Saratoga's growing hospitality industry," Tucker said, in a prepared statement.
Liz DeBold Fusco, Northeast press secretary for Airbnb, said the company, which takes a 3 percent service fee from every booking, has already reached voluntary collection agreements with 18 counties across New York state.
"Those agreements allow us to collect and remit occupancy tax for bookings in that county," she said. "We give the tax to the county, so our hosts don't have to figure out how to collect those taxes."
The closest county to Saratoga that has a voluntary collection agreement with Airbnb is Rensselaer, where the occupancy tax is 3 percent of the listing price, including cleaning fees for reservations of fewer than 13 nights.
In 2017, Fusco said 440 hosts in Saratoga Springs had 17,800 guests stay at their short-term rental properties.
She added that the average amount generated over the course of the year by renting a space -- for an average of two nights each month -- was $6,900.
Fusco said the company is in favor of regulations and has worked with municipalities all over the world.
"For the most part, our hosts are community members, so they want what's best for the community," she said. "They want regulations that preserve their ability to continue to share their home and make ends meet."
Daley said the department of public safety will seek approval from City Council later this month to award a bid to a third-party company that would oversee short-term rental properties in the city.
"This company would search the 50-plus platforms that facilitate short-term rentals to identify them in the city, make sure they're in compliance and generate reports for the city identifying which properties are in compliance," he said. "It would be a full-time job for a city employee, which isn't good use of public resources, so going out to a third party makes better sense for taxpayers."
If the city awards a bid to the third-party company, Daley said public input would be solicited to identify short-term rental properties, notify owners and implement registration procedures over the summer.
He added that enforcement could begin as early as September.
"We want to find a model that would allow the community to thrive and be open," he said.