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Local Airbnb hosts worry they will be regulated out of business

Buffalo's Airbnb host community told its side of the story Tuesday.

Rupinder Jatana decided to rent the second apartment in her two-family house though Airbnb as a way to make some extra money, while also giving her children a way to meet people from around the world.

Joseph Galvin decided to rent a couple apartments in his 19-unit West Side building as Airbnb to provide a service for out-of-town parents who need a place to stay when their children are hospitalized in Buffalo.

And Therese Forton-Barnes also enjoys the international flavor of her Airbnb guests - some of whom bring their dogs because her Elmwood Village home is pet friendly.

The three were among more than a dozen people who came to Council Chambers Tuesday after learning the Common Council is considering regulations for the local Airbnb industry.

The three spoke before the Council's Legislation Committee, which makes recommendations to the full Council.

"We support safety, paying taxes, doing everything properly," Jatana said, speaking for the group. "What we are concerned is, if it will be cost prohibitive for us."

Council members assured Jatana and the other Airbnb hosts that the city isn't against the Airbnb industry, but wants to ensure Airbnb host homes are safe for their guests.

"Our interest isn't to make money, but to make sure the public is safe and everything is up to code, and done properly," Fillmore Councilman David A. Franczyk said.

"This is not a money grab," Council President Darius G. Pridgen added. "Right now, there are no regulations on the city books."

North District Councilman Joseph Golombek Jr. suggested the Council establish a study group to develop regulations.

The Council is expected to create such a committee, possibly at its meeting next week. The group could consist of lawmakers and local Airbnb hosts as well as representatives of the city's inspections office and law department.

The Council began talking about regulating local Airbnbs after the owner of a traditional Bed & Breakfast on Linwood Avenue last month complained that the internet-based Airbnbs don't face the same level of taxes and regulation as his business does. At the time, an official with the city's building department said complaints about Buffalo Airbnbs were on the increase.

"All we want is a level playing field," said Michael Parks, owner of Oscar's Bed & Breakfast on Linwood Avenue.

Lawmakers then contacted Airbnb's corporate office, and spoke to an attorney who said the industry accepts regulation, but emphasized that Airbnb homes tend to provide supplemental income and are not full-time commercial businesses.

He noted that Philadelphia has a three-tier regulation system.

There is one set of regulations for homes that are rented out for up to 90 days, another for homes rented out for 90 to 180 days, and a third for more than 180 days.

The committee the Council is expected to create would review how the Airbnb industry is regulated in other cities, lawmakers said.

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