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Local residents who rent rooms say they offer unique way to stay

Concerns raised about safety, taxes

Guillermo Cole, spokesman for the Allegheny County Health Department, said bed and breakfasts with three guests per night or more need a boarding home permit and are subject to routine inspection.

But properties with fewer guests are not regulated, and the health department would only visit if it receives a complaint.

Regulations and ordinances about short-term subletting vary by municipality and can be unclear.

In Bellevue, for example, ordinances require rental properties to be inspected every three years. But renting rooms on a per diem basis is not addressed, according to zoning officer James Delcroix.

“Unless it is specifically stipulated against in zoning, it would be hard to stop,” he said. “It is a very gray area.”

Delcroix said safety is a concern for him. Any rented space should have clearly marked exits, and renters should make sure the rooms are heated, he said. In Moon, home to many hotels and motels because of its proximity to the airport, township Manager Adam McGurk said no one has complained about houses or rooms being rented.

“It is a tough thing to interpret. If there is a nuisance and the neighbors complain, then we will go out and look,” McGurk said.

He said he believes Moon's ordinances that require applying for conditional uses to operate bed and breakfasts could apply if problems arise.

Allegheny County Special Tax Division Manager Bob Miecznikowski said renters must play county taxes.

“If you are charging someone for a room for an overnight stay, then you have an obligation to collect the tax,” he said. “These are business sites. These people are computer-literate. The application to collect the tax is right there on our website.”

But Miecznikowski said no one has voluntarily filled out the application and remitted taxes.

Bob Pader of Emsworth, who recently began renting an apartment he owns in Crafton on a per diem basis through HomeAway.com, said he is aware of the county tax and will pay it.

He added, however, that he believes the region needs more short-term housing, especially with workers brought here by the Marcellus shale drilling boom.

— Dan Sleva

Related Stories
By Dan Sleva
Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, 9:00 p.m.
 

Whose car is that with the out-of-state plates, parked in the cul-de-sac?

Don't recognize the men in the backyard next door?

They might not be the neighbor's relatives visiting for the holidays.

They could be people who booked a spare bedroom, sofa or futon in your neighbor's house for the night.

Suburban residents are listing their unused spaces on such websites as Airbnb.com and HomeAway.com, welcoming travelers who otherwise might go to hotels or traditional bed and breakfasts.

While renters and hosts say the websites help fill vacant space and cure hotel phobia, public officials and owners of traditional lodging counter that there are laws to follow.

Or there should be.

“We can be a leader,” said Ed Menzer who owns Parador Inn in the North Side. “I would like to see Allegheny County come up with a comprehensive regulation banning this practice.”

Menzer also wants to make sure that collection of the county's 7 percent occupancy tax is uniformly enforced.

Overnight accommodations in homes can be found in municipalities that include Upper St. Clair, Crafton, McCandless, Oakmont, Homestead and Wilkinsburg.

On Airbnb, established in 2008, prices range from $35 per night for Bruce Conley's spare room in Mars to $125 for a master suite in Moon.

Samantha Gaiser first used Airbnb to stay when she traveled to New York City.

“I don't like hotel rooms. They freak me out,” said Gaiser, 25, of Bellevue. “And this is a way to meet new people from different places and to make new friends that you otherwise would have never encountered.”

Gaiser, a hairstylist, said she enjoyed the experience and now has her own ad, renting out a spare room in her Bellevue apartment for $55 per night.

She said that before staying in a home she finds on Airnb, she checks reviews of the hosts that have been posted by other guests.

Airbnb, which collects 6 percent to 12 percent of bookings as a commission, supplies safety tips that include recommending renters check out hosts to determine if they are providing “their real name, clear photographs and a full description” of their properties.

The websites disclaim overall responsibility. However, some cover property liability. Airnb covers hosts with up to $1 million in insurance for property damage.

Conley, 69, said he found out about Airbnb while researching a trip to the Philippines about a year ago

“I really did not think anybody would want to stay with me in Mars, but I got a booking about three days later and he stayed for 10 days,” Conley said. “And I have a guy with me now who has been here for about month-and-a-half, job-hunting. I have had to turn people away because I am booked.”

Conley, who owns a computer business, said he offers his guests amenities hotels don't.

“They have use of a big TV, laundry facilities and my fridge. They can talk to me if they want to, and they are not going home to an empty motel.”

Bob Pader, 40, of Emsworth recently began to post rooms on HomeAway.com, which was established in 2006. The site charges a fee for each listing.

Last month, Pader offered one of his recently remodeled Crafton apartments for $150 per night and quickly received more than 150 inquiries.

For now, he has a seven-night minimum but said he might lower it because people want to rent for one or two nights.

“I've stayed at a lot of hotels in a lot of cities traveling for work. Hotel rooms get old. And most corporate apartments have Formica counters. I wanted this to feel more like a home,” Pader said, noting that his apartment has leather couches, Sleep Number beds, tin ceilings and other features.

“It is a good opportunity. There is a need for corporate housing and short-term rentals. And look at what I am offering,” Pader said. “It is a much better deal than the Sheraton.”

Dan Sleva is a freelance writer.

 

 
 


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