Bellefonte’s short-term rental ordinance to impact Airbnb owners if passed

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CENTRE COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) – Current and new Airbnb owners in Bellefonte could be facing some changes in the future when it comes to their rentals.

A short-term rental ordinance is currently in the works that would regulate overnight stays that are less than 30 days and not owner occupied. And since Bed and Breakfast’s are owner occupied, it’s the Airbnb owners that would be impacted.

“It caught us all off guard, because the proposed ordinance places excessive restrictions on Airbnb types and actually works to remove them from the borough,” said Airbnb owner Bruce Cifelli.

Borough Manager Ralph Stewart explains how the current ordinance draft is written.

“Existing units will continue until their permits expire, then at that point in time they may need to do additional safety measures, and they may need to become owner occupied a portion of the year to get their permit renewed. New permit applications would only be granted for commercial districts in the borough, not residential.” said Stewart.

According to Stewart the council was presented with the need for a short-term rental ordinance after safety concerns were voiced.

“Given that the unit is not owner occupied, no one would be there to show a person how to exit the property if there was an emergency….In addition to that we had a Bed and Breakfast owner ask council to look into this. Points were made in a presentation whether everybody that owns one of these was paying the same amount of head tax, bedroom tax,” said Stewart.

Cifelli says there are a number of them that operate in the borough, but that they are registered with code, compliant and permitted to operate their facilities. He says they should be able to coexist with Bed and Breakfast’s.

“We all understand what the large Bed and Breakfast’s do for Bellefonte. I mean the Victorian homes are beautiful, they’re great romantic settings for the people who want to come and have a romantic evening, but they’re not for everybody,” said Cifelli.

According to Cifelli Airbnb’s are the future of lodging and pick up where Bed and Breakfast’s leave off.

“There’s a lot of people who are drawn to the Airbnb model where they can go with their family, where they can cook dinner or just hang out in their own private spot with their family and relax,” said Cifelli.

Cifelli adds that Airbnbs bring a lot of benefits to Bellefonte.

“All of my short-term rentals they shop downtown, they visit the local restaurants downtown. I have take-out menus in my home so they can call and have a pizza on the back porch. The commerce is almost endless with what we have in the community,” said Cifelli.

If the ordinance were to be passed, Cifelli says he would have to leave the home he loves as his rental is what helps keep him afloat.

“This literally is staying in my house or having to leave and I love Bellefonte. I love the house that I have, I’ve put a lot of work into it and I settled on this as an opportunity,” said Cifelli.

Stewart says that this week, they’ll be posting the ordinance draft on their website to give the community a chance to share their input and voice their opinions.

“We will accept comments, written, email and there will be a verbal comment period,” said Stewart.

Once the comments are received Stewart says the council is willing to take a step further in creating a stakeholder group. According to him this would consist of Airbnb and business owners, as well as residents to make further modifications for a new draft for the council to consider.

“Hopefully there’s a middle ground that can be achieved,” said Stewart.

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