File photo of the living room of an Airbnb

THE impact of recent changes to Airbnb rules in New York City (NYC) is being keenly watched in Jamaica, especially after Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett's recent announcement that discussions are under way to roll out regulations here.

Among the rules for short-term (less than 30 consecutive days) rentals that NYC began enforcing on September 5 is a limit of two paying guests at a time, no matter the size of the space being rented and, according to guidelines listed on NYC's Office of Special Enforcement website, "the person renting out the home or apartment must 'maintain a common household' with guests". This means hosts have to be physically present when they have clients.

New York City legislators have said the new rules are aimed at cracking down on illegal short-term rentals, on making guests safer and easing a tight housing market.

When Bartlett told reporters on the sidelines of Jamaica Product Exchange (Japex) of plans to regularise the local sector, he cited the safety of guests as the rationale behind the move. While local players maintain that there are no major security issues that need to be fixed, one realtor has noted that there is a real concern about the impact on long-term rentals.

The Airbnb app icon is displayed on an iPad screen in Washington, DC, United States on May 8, 2021. (Photo: AP)

"I have seen over the past few years that our long-term inventory has dwindled drastically, directly because of the B&B [bed and breakfast] market," managing director of Gourzong Realty Group, Garfield Gourzong told the Jamaica Observer. His clients offer both long- and short-term stays.

The biggest impact, the realtor said, is on unfurnished properties that have to compete with fully furnished ones that were once offered for short stays. According to Gourzong, it is not uncommon for individuals who enter the very competitive and labour-intensive B&B market to quickly realise they are not up to the challenge.

"They come back with a fully furnished home. And that, a lot of times, escalates the price and eliminates [potential tenants] that already have their furniture. I see that increasing; I see it as not a huge problem, but a big enough challenge for us," he explained.

Owner of Airbnb-listed Olcam Lodge Villa, Clyde Cameron is among those who have dismissed suggestions that the short-term market is having a negative impact on longer-term stays. In his view, there is space for both segments of the market.

"I see a lot of places that have been built for long term. It's a totally different market. Even on my road there are long-term properties. But I wouldn't book my place long term because I probably couldn't cover my costs," he said.

He rents out the two top floors of his Runaway Bay home that has a swimming pool, Jacuzzi and air-conditioning units in four of the five bedrooms. Upkeep of the property requires the services of a gardener, pool cleaner and housekeeper.

"How much would I be charging for long-term stay for me to be able to pay for all these things? I just can't see that. If it was financially feasible, of course people would rather just book it one time and that's it, you're good for the year, rather than have to be every week thinking, 'I got to do this or do that'. If I could see that long term could work that way, yeah, it would be fine. I've had people wanting to book for a month, but it just wouldn't work out financially, to be honest," Cameron said.

So now he is among those keeping an eye on developments locally and abroad.

In Jamaica, the discussions are in the preliminary stages. According to Bartlett, the aim is to have the lucrative Airbnb segment of the country's tourism sector, which raked in more than US$100 million last year, become part of the "formal system". This, he said, would mean exploration of measures such as a "licensing regime".

Under NYC's new rules, there is a US$145 application cost to register with the Office of Special Enforcement before listing a property on platforms such as Airbnb, Vrbo or Guests will not be penalised for staying at an illegal property but fines for hosts who break the rules can range from $100 to $1,000 for a first violation.

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BY CHARMAINE N CLARKE Executive editor, regional correspondents network

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