Letter: B&B owner exposes downside of Lenox short-term rental vote
To the editor:
I certainly understand why the majority opinion on short-term rental regulation is overwhelmingly negative. No one likes to be regulated in one's own home. As owners of Stonover Farm B&B, with just 5 suites, we left the town meeting with one unfortunate but obvious conclusion.
If Lenox maintains its current no-regulation practice, why wouldn't B&B's just dissolve their "commercial" business and become "residential"? We'd pay property tax at the residential rate (20 percent lower ), have no building or health inspections, monitoring fees for alarms, mandatory extinguishers, exit signs, emergency lights, fire escape, sufficient parking spaces, official permits. So as year-round residents, we could continue to rent our suites without any regulation, but would collect no local tax. So far, Stonover's 5 suites have generated about $400,000 tax dollars for the state and $350,000 for Lenox.
Someone at the meeting proposed permitting homeowners to own a second house exclusively for short-term rentals. At the next meeting, someone could suggest that we be allowed to own an unlimited number of these.
Before Stonover Farm could open for business, the building inspector required structural, electrical and plumbing changes for "commercial" properties, which cost us about half a million dollars. Subsequently he required an additional $100,000 worth of changes to our barn before we could host any events, and limited us to eight events per year. These events, wholeheartedly supported by all our neighbors, enable us to maintain the appearance and structural integrity of this magnificent building.
We've donated the use of our barn to many nonprofits and charitable organizations without any tax benefit from federal, state or local authorities. Meanwhile, we pay over $30,000 in property tax and about $2500 for the privilege of having inspections, alarm maintenance and monitoring, health department permits, etc. For any barn event, a regulation requires a Lenox fireman to be there.
So for lodging establishments designated as "commercial," it appears the obvious solution is for the owner/operators to reclassify all of them as private homes, which are currently allowed to rent rooms without regulation. Like the record, movie and taxi industries, technology has changed the way we access all products, including lodging. Without regulations, every house in Lenox could operate as an airbnb property, street parking would be impossible, and the local tax base would collapse. Anyone have a better idea?
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