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Tourism group calls for action to regulate 'illegal hotels'

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A statewide tourism group that lobbies on behalf of businesses within the industry is calling on legislators to enact regulations which put what it calls 'illegal hotels' on a level playing field with hotels, motels, bed-and-breakfast establishments and similar businesses.

The New York State Hospitality and Tourism Association is pointing to online services, naming the website Airbnb as a specific example, which link travelers to private owner-occupiers who rent spaces for short-term stays. These include rooms, apartments, or private homes.

Speaking Friday morning at a roundtable breakfast in Amherst, Association president Jan Marie Chesterton said through these online arrangements, many owners list their homes and, when doing so, avoid some of the same health, safety, building and tax regulations that hotel owners must obey.

"We're not looking to put anyone out of business. We're looking to make it fair," Chesterton said. "We're looking to level the playing field.

"If you've got increased liability insurance, fine.  I'll tell you right now, most people don't have extended liability insurance in their homes. They have a homeowners police and that's probably not going to cover some massive disaster or something that could happen by renting our additional rooms or their apartments."

Chesterton added that the hotel industry is just "waiting for that disaster," when an online provider has a fire or some other serious emergency. Among the fears are the potential for no sprinklers, carbon monoxide detectors or other potentially life-saving devices that are required in licensed lodging facilities.

"Hotels will tell you, they're 24-7," she said. "When the fire department comes, when the police comes, they can tell you who is in what room, and how to get there. These people (non-licensed) are picking up keys at the corner drug store and and renting a house or renting an apartment down the street with no consequences."

In addition to safety concerns, there is also the potential for generating more tax revenues. In 2013, both rooms and demand for them were up in Erie County. 

"This also translated into a nearly two percent increase in our bed tax that was collected in Erie County, a record high of nine-point-nine million dollars that was collected in Erie (County) last year," said Patrick Kaler, president and CEO of Visit Buffalo Niagara.

According to the NYSHTA, regions including Albany and Long Island lost more than a million dollars in tax revenue last year because of owner-occupiers who were not paying taxes on their short-term rentals.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.