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The Buffalo Common Council is Hurting the City with its Over-Regulation of AirBnb Hosts

Author: Daniel Cadzow

This was written March 15, 2020 when COVID-19 was starting to creep into the US. At the time, I felt the city had more important things to worry about, and put it in on a shelf. However, now we are entering Phase One of WNY’s “reopening” and this might be a good time to think about what Buffalo’s new normal should be like. Believe it or not, I’m not even going to get into the issues related to large buildings, housing numerous travelers from all over the world, served by residents from all over the city, during a global pandemic. This is about our little Airbnb rental.

We received our notice through Airbnb that we must register our rental today. That means we must also submit our rental to inspections and pay additional fees for the inconvenience and uncertainty. A source at the Buffalo News told me that the City says it’s to level the playing field with traditional bed and breakfasts. In style and scale, however, we are much more like traditional landlords.

The moniker, Air ‘bnb’, is really kind of a joke, as very few of us provide the services they do.

The moniker, Air “bnb”, is really kind of a joke, as very few of us provide the services they do – we mostly rent space with a range of comforts that cater to different needs and incomes. It’s self-organization at its finest. The people who founded Airbnb, came up with the name because they, on tight budgets, rented “air” mattresses to guests coming to their hometown for concerts and conferences – no breakfast provided, no mints on a pillow, no underpaid clerks at a desk 24/7. We rent space, like an art studio or place for band practice, where people can host meetings, have get-togethers, and crash if they want to. Hence the cleaning fees -it’s typically nothing like a bed and breakfast. The guests that would stay in our places, if denied the opportunity, are more likely to stay in big hotels or even campgrounds than traditional bed and breakfasts.

This property owner has exposed electric wire, rigged using wire nuts

The official story from the City is that the regulations are for the safety of our guests. Given that these types of regulations do not exist for traditional landlords, this begs the question: Why is there more concern for our tourists than our residents?” The unsafe conditions of many of apartments in the city of Buffalo are atrocious. For example, Buffalo boasts neighborhoods with eight times the lead poisoning rates as Flint, Michigan. The city blames the crisis on old housing stock with lead paint, lead water service lines, and poverty. Yet, no inspections for traditional landlords. Investigations for lead poisoning only happen after a child is lead poisoned. And guess what – too late, that life is irrevocably changed for the worst.

Fires caused by faulty wiring and HVAC fill the headlines; still no inspections are required for traditional landlords. Not too long ago, I was walking down Richmond Avenue and spotted a rental unit with unprotected Romex electric wire exiting a basement wall, connecting to another wire without even electrical tape, and reentering the building. That’s’ not just a hazard for the tenants and neighbors, but also for every college kid and old drunk making their way home after spending too much time at a local pub.

During the Covid-19 crisis, it came to light that many tenants did not even have access to running water.

During the Covid-19 crisis, it came to light that many tenants did not even have access to running water. Try running an Airbnb without running water – most guests won’t even consider a place that doesn’t have free Wi-Fi, AC, convenient parking, and a long list of good guest reviews. What’s worst is when benevolent non-for-profits like the Partnership for Public Good convinced the Water Authority to restore water service to residents and tenants so they could maintain their hygiene during this pandemic, we found out that many of these “long-term rentals” lacked the plumbing infrastructure to forestall flooding, mold and mildew, property damage, etc. Yet they seem to think only Airbnb hosts need licensing and inspections?

An alternative to broadcast licensing and inspections of Airbnb’s that would reflect a concern for guest safety would be using their established rating system. Guests and hosts rate each other, and to bolster honesty, neither can see the other’s reviews until both are published. We, for example, have 75 reviews with a 4.91 star rating. We had been designated as a “Super Host” for over 2 years. That means we keep our clients happy, we don’t cancel reservations for better offers, we fix problems when they come up, and we are there when they have questions or concerns. Sadly, we ended our Airbnb career, losing that designation after canceling our first 2020 reservations and refusing another 45-day request from film makers due to the City’s overbearing regulations.

To ensure visitor safety, Airbnb’s existing rating system could inform who should be inspected and who is exempt: fees for inspections would be charged to those whose ratings drop below 2.5 stars after a minimum of 10 reviews. Complaints about things like loud parties or parking issues can be made through 311, just like properties rented by traditional landlords.

Our Back Story:

When we bought our home in 2009, the apartment above our garage had been rented out to various tenants over the years by the previous owners. A neighbor told us it was the Canisius College “jock’s party house” in the 1980’s.  We self-condemned the place because it was unsafe and truly, truly disgusting. Another neighbor said the last tenant claimed he could hear people walking on the roof at night – he often felt like he was losing his mind. After making our new home safe and livable, we began working on the apartment. When I restarted the furnace, this time with smoke and carbon monoxide detectors installed, the carbon monoxide numbers were off the charts. No wonder the last tenant felt like he was going insane – that’s a symptom of carbon monoxide poisoning. There were no city inspections or licensing processes to protect him and still are none to protect others in slum lord dwellings across the city, like this had been.

When our apartment was again safe to inhabit, we considered long term rentals. We determined it wouldn’t work for us because we use the place to host the grandparents and other relatives who have allergies, and we have pets. We also use the downstairs as a wood shop and the noise we generate is unfair to tenants, whose rental fees should at least secure them some peace and quiet, in addition to health and safety.

Not long after we started renting on Airbnb, we received an unannounced visit from a City inspector who did not introduce himself nor explain the reason for his visit. We only found out about it because he mailed us a notice of violations. The same happened to a neighbor, a block away, who happened to also rent through Airbnb. The same did not happen, however, to any of our numerous friends in this and other city neighborhoods.

The second violation was that the roof above our enclosed porch lacked a railing. I emailed the inspector (to ensure a written record) and told him that the roof was not intended to serve as a porch and the doorway to it (that should not be there) was permanently blocked on the inside. He still insisted that we had to install a railing. I carefully explained that the door to the porch was installed by a past owner and originally there were windows there. I further explained that the framing of the porch, enclosed in the 1920’s, was not intended to support the 20 or so people that could easily occupy the space if lured there by the safety promised by the railing he wanted. After that he relented and said it would be enough for me to remove the door and replace the windows.

This was my suggestion, not his. Imagine the consequences if someone less knowledgeable about framing and construction received such a notice from the City inspector? Also imagine suddenly getting legal notices requiring expensive repairs like these if you are already struggling to pay your mortgage, taxes, utilities, groceries, etc. That is why, after all, so may people open their homes to Airbnb guests – to make ends meet. Makes it hard to love the city, though I still do.

Taken together, it seems quite apparent that the licensing and inspections aren’t in place to protect our guests, who don’t even use the front stairs or go anywhere near our front porch roof. It seems more likely that the City is protecting the hotel industry, at the expense of tax paying residents like ourselves. That makes no sense to me. Hotels are typically owned by large corporations that are beholden to shareholders that live all over the world and have no allegiances to the city. The jobs they provide are low paying, typically regarded as unsatisfying, and are all too often unsafe. They make money because people are attracted to our city for its people, history, and natural resources, only to export that money to their shareholders.  And as a thanks for all that, the city and county often offer tax abatements. That means they contribute nothing or next to nothing to the local economy or the tax base. Why would the City want to protect that?

Airbnb operators live, pay taxes, and shop locally.

Airbnb operators, at least in our case (and our friends’ cases), live, pay taxes, and shop locally. With federal, state, and local taxes, we lose about 30% of our earnings right off the top. That percentage is higher than you might expect because when you are self-employed, you must match the 7.5% of social security tax that your employer normally would. Airbnb takes another 5% as a finder’s fee, which they earn by providing a platform for guests and hosts to meet and evaluate each other’s reputations and safety (unlike traditional landlords).

Unlike the super-rich that funnel their earnings into offshore tax havens, we typically spend all of ours… locally. So, another 8% goes right back into the local municipalities in the form of sales tax. We have no tax loopholes like the mega corporations that operate the big hotels, and unlike traditional landlords we don’t collect the fees ourselves with cash and checks, so there’s no fibbing when we pay our taxes. After all that, the city wants to take a cut too and send inspectors into our homes?

Well for us it ends now. After the unpleasant and unsafe dealings we have had with the City inspector, we are not letting an inspector on our property without a warrant. We’re just not going to rent our apartment. We’re going to sit on the equity we have built into our property rather than channel the earnings we could be making into the local economy, while also improving our way of life. We will also no longer be paying all those taxes on the lost earnings, so again, great job Buffalo Common Council – you lost the tax revenue we were generating only to give tax abatements to mega-hotels that serve the city and its visitors poorly.

The other, perhaps most important thing for the city is, we will no longer be giving guests comfort and treasured memories with our unique dwelling space. They can go stay in some bland hotel and have generic memories of this increasingly corporate and sterile city.

If the Common Council doesn’t rethink this regulation, hosts like us will no longer be contributing to Buffalo’s growing reputation as a warm, inviting, historic, and colorful place to visit. Testimony of that can be found in our reviews:

“This place is so Buffalo! Adorable, historic carriage house, and Dan’s done an amazing job refurbishing the place. Great location for getting in and out of, with plenty of street parking (and we were there for 3 weeks with 2 cars). Dan was terrific about responding to any issues we had immediately (and even checked my car and the house when I was afraid I’d left things open). We recommend the place highly.”

-Karen May, 2019

“What a great place to stay! We had everything we needed and more. Cozy, comfortable, easy parking, and plenty of extras. We would definitely stay again the next time we are in the area.”

-Lindsey October, 2018

-Shannon September, 2018

“Awesome space with interesting historical touches about Kamper’s Whisky Business and old maps of Buffalo. The wooden furniture was great also. Dan was very responsive and everything was in order when we arrived. Would stay again and recommend to others.”

-Gabriel August, 2018

“Our second time staying with Dan was great. It’s been two years and everything was still in good condition and there were even a few upgrades. Hopefully we can stay there our next trip to buffalo too!”

-Marty -August, 2018

“Dan’s place is wonderful, charming and unique. has all the comforts you might need, wifi, tv. nice kitchen with new appliances. it is full of history, and local decorations. you can really get a feel for where you are and what it used to be. We can’t wait to come by again.”

-David, July, 2018

“Dan is a great host! I contacted him pretty late to see if we could stay at his place and Dan contacted me right away… the place was very clean and super cute! It had so many personal touches and so many board games for my kids. I couldn’t be happier with our stay at Dan’s place. You will not be disappointed with this Airbnb!”

-Cecilia July, 2018

“Dan is an awesome host! Super fast responses and very helpful responses. Everything you need to know is in the description of the house. Home is very well put together and pretty, style gives it a very homey touch. I honestly have nothing negative to say about this home, if you stay here you will not be disappointed. Thank you Dan for such a great place to stay!”

-Julia July, 2018

“We loved the Carriage House and Dan is an excellent host. Check in was simple and Dan was responsive to all of our questions and needs. The air conditioner went out one morning during a hot summer stretch of weather and Dan replaced it in a few short hours! That was excellent service, better than any hotel I have ever stayed at. The Carriage house is located in a great part of the city, right next to Delaware Park, and centrally located near many excellent restaurants and attractions. The space is very comfortable and is well appointed for families. There is an interesting character to this place that Dan does well to preserve.”

-Bob and Barb July, 2018

“We had a great stay in Dan’s carriage house. First, Dan is a great host. He was responsive to all my questions and easy to deal with. Second, check in and out was a breeze. We were arriving very late but it was no problem as the house has a separate and private entrance. Parking was a piece of cake on the street in front of the house. Checkout was equally easy. Dan even cheerfully accommodated a very late checkout. Third the location of the house is simply perfect. Near parks, zoo, and other attractions we walked just about everywhere. Finally the house is comfortable, homey, and a great fit particularly for families traveling. I would highly recommend Dan’s place.”

-Jenny June, 2018

“This is a fantastic carriage house, located in one of the sweetest neighborhoods in the city. Great open space and amenities; homey and rustic and beautiful. Everything was super, especially the owner’s communication with us. We loved everything about this place and didn’t want to leave… we’ll be back for sure. Thank you!”

-Mathew December, 2017

“Our family of 4 tried this after staying at the Residence Inn and the kids were reluctant but LOVED it! The bunk bed was a big hit. The jacuzzi tub made kids and mom VERY happy. It was so nice to have soaps, spices, olive oil, vinegar, detergent, all kinds of stuff stocked. The local history theme with lots of books, framed maps & documents, artifacts etc was fun. The shelf of toys and children’s books were great for the kids. The sheets, comforters and towels were nicer than the hotel ones we would have gotten. There was lots of street parking, no problem. Dan answered a message within minutes even when away for the night. He was extremely patient with my 4 year old when he came by to check something.”

-Alexandria October, 2017

“I loved running in the park every morning which is right across the street. You can take a long 5 mile loop around the park and art gallery with a lake. I do wish there were some restaurants or things to do within walking distance, but if you have a car or other transportation you are fine. Dan is a great host. The internet went down one morning but he went to the store and purchased a new router immediately and got it working again within an hour.”

-Charles September, 2017

“Dan’s home it’s very well kept and clean, with nice details all around. My family and I had a very nice time there. Surpassed our expectations. Dan even has coffee beans!! He is a very thoughtful host. The communication was very good. It is located in a very nice neighborhood. With we’ll kept gardens and beautiful arquitectura to enjoy. We hope to return again”

-Mari July, 2017

“Quiet, comfortable, clean, safe, convenient. Loved everything about this apartment. I will be back every time we go “home” to buffalo. Buffalo really does have the best neighbors, and Dan is just an exemplary example of an awesome host/person!”

Cat June, 2017

“Dan was great! He was responsive when I needed him and even let me know when he was going to be out of town for the day. I was completely comfortable and the place was so clean. Since I was born in buffalo, it was nice seeing all the history in the home.”

-Stephanie October, 2016

” Communications with Dan were quick, smooth and delightful. He went out of his way to manually manipulate his hot water heater to provide us water for the shower while awaiting delivery/installation of a new unit. He even offered us a “rebate” which we didn’t need/accept because everything was just fine from our perspective. The location is good and Dan has made his place very accommodating for guests.”

-Ira September, 2016

“Dan is a wonderful host. He gave us a lot of instructions and information regarding local transportation and made our check-in very smooth. His place is very clean and nicely decorated. My friends and I liked it a lot.”

-Xuechan August, 2016

“The Kamper Carriage House was perfect for our family of three on our trip to Buffalo. The place was very clean and in good condition upon check-in and very cool even though it was a hot August day. The parking was not a problem at all, our car was never more than 50 feet from the door. We loved the unique features of the house and admiring the care that went into renovating it and even enjoyed the jigsaw puzzles (I challenge you to complete the Beatles one, we didn’t have time to finish.) The location was great as well, we took a walk through Delaware Park and could get anywhere we needed easily. Dan was also very proactive with his communication which was helpful with check-in. We look forward to staying there again!”

-Marty August, 2016

“We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Kamper Carriage House. It was very family friendly (with kids DVDs, bunk beds, and no breakable glass tchotchkes) and was exactly as it looks from the photos. Everything was well thought out for our comfort and needs. It was homey and luxurious at the same time (my kids loved the jacuzzi tub). We loved it and will definitely book again when we come back to the area.”

-Carrie August, 2016

“The carriage house was charming, clean and homey. Our friends who booked a hotel nearby were jealous. Dan was quick to respond and very accommodating and helpful. We thank you for the reasonable rate and hope to stay again in this fabulous carriage house in a prime location. Also, it was hot as hades on our August weekend stay and Dan had the AC on before we even arrived. Pro move.”

-Hien August, 2016

“Very nice and clean place! Dan was very accommodating as of check in time! We had a little problem with hot water but Dan responded to my concern right away and fixed it on the spot! Thank you for everything Dan!”

-Anisa August. 2016

“My boyfriend and I stayed at Dans Kamp Carriage. It was so incredibly beautiful and comfortable. We stayed for two nights, it was plenty warm and cozy. It had a wonderful jet bathtub that basically melted my stress away. The only negative if it really is one at all is the water pressure is not the best. But other then that very small detail it was honestly the best romantic getaway that we wanted! The location is very easy to get to with plenty of parking options. Dan helped is every step of the way!”

-Angela February, 2016

“Dan was a wonderful host. The house is beautifully furnished and suited our needs perfectly. Conveniently located by everything you need. Very close to border as well. Overall, I was very pleased and would definitely recommend this house for anyone needing to stay in Buffalo!”

-Jordan January, 2016

Jordan’s group was our first official rental. I remember being so nervous renting our recently renovated space to a group of young men coming to see a Bills game. But they blew every fear and stereotype out of the water. They were the first of so many pleasant interactions. Of course there was the bad guest or two, but all in all I’m going to miss hosting so many people from all over the world, including every nationality and reason for visiting you can imagine.

RIP Kamper Carriage House Airbnb

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