Warren County property owners are doing a small but bustling business in renting out their houses, and the county will soon start taxing them for it.
Regulations are also in the works, with Queensbury considering a short-term rentals permit and Lake George passing rules recently.
According to the latest figures from Airbnb, 32,200 guests came to Warren County last year through the home-share website. They paid $4.5 million for rentals, from a total of 430 Airbnb hosts.
That’s an average of 74 guests per host over the course of the year. With the assumption of three guests per visit (with half of all visits being a couple, and the other half being a group of four), that means each Airbnb rental house in the county was occupied during at least 25 weeks of the year.
Of course, some houses were rented far more frequently, while others were rarely rented. Neighbors of one house that has been rented to large groups have complained that the routine crowds of drunken renters are ruining their quality of life.
But some owners of rental property have written emails to Queensbury Supervisor John Strough, asking him not to require a permit because their mortgage banker or home insurance company did not know they were using the property for short-term rentals.
“Some say, if I had to get a permit, it becomes public knowledge,” Strough said.
But that wouldn’t be the end of the world, according to insurance agent Hannah Dahlgren of O’Brien Insurance Agency in Glens Falls.
Most policies allow a few weeks of rentals, she said.
“You would have to call and ask. Every company is different, but usually it’s 12 weeks max,” she said.
After that, there’s no reason to despair.
“When you go over a certain number of weeks, you become a landlord. You need a landlord policy,” she said.
Those can be the same price as a homeowner’s regular insurance policy. The nightmare situation is if a homeowner doesn’t switch, and the insurance company finds out — perhaps during an investigation after a property damage claim. The company can cancel the client’s policy after paying the claim.
“And then you might have someone who doesn’t have coverage,” Dahlgren said.
She said she could see that happening easily to people who don’t check their mail regularly.
So the best thing to do would be to simply tell the insurance company at once, she advised.
“Just call them directly. There’s always a solution,” she said.
As for occupancy tax, Airbnb renters currently don’t pay it. But those who stay in the hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfasts in Warren County must pay a 4 percent tax.
If the Airbnb renters had paid, the county would have collected $180,000 from them last year.
Warren County Budget Officer Frank Thomas said it’s not a huge amount of money — in 2017 the county collected $4.3 million from the mainstream lodging options.
Still, he supports taxing every type of lodging.
“I definitely think we should,” he said. “We’ve talked about it for two or three years now.”
Supervisors changed the occupancy tax law last year to include homes, and the county negotiated a contract with Airbnb. That took longer than expected, but taxation might begin in a month, said Treasurer Mike Swan. The contract is being reviewed by the county attorney now.
“I would say we’re almost there,” Swan said. “My goal was Jan. 1, but we kind of missed that a little bit.”
As for Queensbury’s short-term rental permit, Strough said the Town Board is still looking at all sides of the issue and considering many options. The board is “not even close” to a final draft of a piece of legislation.
At Monday’s town workshop at 7 p.m., board members will discuss the issue again.