Renting out your Weehawken condo – by the night
Residents advertise their units to tourists via local websites
by E. Assata Wright
Reporter staff writer
Jun 16, 2013 | 6208 views | 1 1 comments | 259 259 recommendations | email to a friend | print
condo rentals
RESIDENTIAL STREETS – Some of the rooms available to rent on the short-term rental market are in tree-lined neighborhoods like this one in Hoboken. Typically, the ads play up their close proximity to Manhattan.
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Everybody loves a bargain – especially when it comes to travelling, when flight and hotel expenses can cut into budgets that could be better spent on sightseeing and experiencing local culture. A trend that has existed for years in tourist meccas like New York City, Los Angeles, and London has now reached the shores of Hudson County. And with less than a year to go before Super Bowl XLVIII, the trend is likely to grow in the coming months.

On web sites like AirBNB.com, residents throughout Hudson County lease rooms in their condos, apartments, and homes to visitors for as little as $35 a night, and sometimes list the whole unit. While per-night rentals can go as high as $250, most rooms can be had for $80 to $99. In online ads posted to the sites, property owners entice would-be renters with such descriptions as “minutes to NYC,” “Stunning penthouse,” and “Prime location, Minutes to Times Square.” The owners decorate the rooms with bright colors, art, and musical instruments, and some of them even live on-site and cook for their guests.

While officials from local municipalities seem vaguely aware of this gray market practice, few are aggressively regulating it – even though such rentals skirt hotel tax laws, possibly cheating municipalities out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Ad: ‘Your home away from home’

The properties available for nightly rentals are as varied and diverse as Hudson County itself.

Last week, one person advertised a Journal Square-area apartment for $85 a night. The ad featured several photos of the furnished Summit Avenue basement unit that can accommodate up to four guests.

The “kid-friendly” apartment comes with free internet/WiFi and central air conditioning. The furnished unit does not come with cable or TV, but looks spacious and clean in the photos. The unit received several glowing reviews from recent guests, as did the hosts/property owners, who require a three-night minimum stay and a deposit of $500.

“[The hosts] were really friendly and helpful with our stay, with lots of advice for transport and finding things in the local area, and getting to Manhattan,” wrote Sebastian, a recent guest. “The flat was very clean and tidy, and the bed was very cozy. The walk to the station wasn’t too bad, but we made a point of not getting back too late at night in the dark. There’s always plenty of taxis around the station though. The ride on the PATH train to Manhattan is very quick and easy, and cheap!”

As of press time, the unit was booked through the end of the month (with the exception of June 22 and 23), and through much of July and August.
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The properties available for nightly rentals are as varied and diverse as Hudson County itself.
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Another host listed his Oak Street unit in Weehawken for $115 a night. Describing the furnished unit as a “tranquil space,” it can accommodate up to six people.

“Your home away from home,” the owner wrote in his online ad. “Enjoy peace after a long day soaking up the energy of Manhattan. Sun-drenched corner apartment on the second floor of a two-family home, located on a quiet, family-friendly street with city views. Living room alone is over 500 square feet. Pre-war details include high ceilings, hardwood floors and original moldings. Music enthusiasts will enjoy the baby grand piano.”

Like many hosts, this property owner requires a minimum stay of three nights, and the unit can be leased for a monthly rate of $3,100.

In a review of the unit, one guest, Jing, wrote: “My parents and I had three wonderful days. The place is large and comfortable, quiet/nice neighborhood, and convenient to Manhattan by 15min bus. [The host] is also very nice and thoughtful. Would like to stay there again!”

Apparently a big beer lover, this host’s signature welcome gift for guests is a six-pack.

“We would like to thank you for your warm welcome,” guest Jean Marc wrote to this host. “We really like your house. You have everything and thank you for the beer for the first day !!!! The place is very peaceful and you have a great view to the skyline of NYC…We really [enjoyed] our vacation.”

Another visitor, Dao-Huy, also referenced the brew.

Meanwhile, Union City, whose housing is slightly less expensive because it’s not on the waterfront, offers a number of room choices starting as low as $60 per night. A listing for one $99 luxury unit says, “Please don't be put off by this listing being outside of Manhattan. We are closer to Midtown Manhattan, Times Square, Theater District… than staying in other parts of Manhattan.” The décor includes a bar chair with a tiger-fur motif.

Nearby, a woman who works as marketing consultant by day and a yoga teacher by night rents out a private room in her Garden Street Hoboken apartment for as little as $75 a night or $500 for a week.

“Stretch out in a bright and spacious private room with your own bathroom located on a quiet block,” she tells her would-be guests. “This is a recently renovated apartment in a historic brownstone.”

Some of the locations are unique. The owners of a historic ferry docked along the Hudson River waterfront, built in 1907 to shuttle new citizens from Ellis Island to New York City, have five rooms on the boat listed on AirBNB for starting at $165 to $197 per night.

They also rent the entire boat for $3,687 per night for up to 20 guests.

Skirting the hotel tax

While these Hudson County getaway spots are advertised as “sunny private rooms,” they are clearly serving as de facto hotel rooms for people who want to save money on lodging fees while visiting the metropolitan area. But these short-term rentals rob city coffers of money that could go toward municipal budgets.

Cities throughout the state of New Jersey receive a tax from each hotel room booked within their city. Jersey City receives a hotel tax rate of 6 percent from every hotel room booked at the city’s hotels, which amounts to a whopping $4 million and $5 million annually, according to the administration of Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy.

Even the comparatively small town of Secaucus receives a 3 percent tax on the hotel rooms booked in its municipality. Last year, the town realized nearly $2 million in revenue from its hotel tax.

The rented rooms also bring strangers into complexes and neighborhoods without the landlords and neighbors knowing much about them.

But few municipalities have cracked down on these rentals.

“No one has brought this to our attention. This is the first time I’m hearing about this,” said Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner. “We do have problems from time to time with people buying a house and trying to convert it to a boarding home, and we have all kinds of regulations on that. But I’m not aware of this particular issue coming up at all.”

Turner said he will look into it further to see whether it is prevalent enough for the township to regulate.

“We have one house in town that I know of that’s still doing that,” said Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli. “They advertise it as a vacation home. They rent it all the time because there are always different license plates on the cars parked outside. I know we thought about passing an ordinance to crack down on this, but I don’t think we ever passed it.”

Instead, Gonnelli said, Secaucus has tried to curb the short-term rental market through issuing citations for zoning violations. Probably feeling that they were being heavily scrutinized, most property owners who were leasing on the short-term rental market have stopped, said Gonnelli.

Still, he added, “I anticipate we’re going to see a ton of that next year during Super Bowl week.”

A handful of Secaucus units could be found on the website last week, including a room for $70 per night, described as being in “a luxury complex with a gym and media room” on Riverside Station Road. A guest posted, “We came late but got to enjoy some company, exchanging international backgrounds and getting to hear a little about how it is to live near NYC. [The owner’s] girlfriend also made brownies for the evening.”

Another room at Teal Plaza rents for $54 per night.

Dan Bryan, a spokesman for the city of Hoboken, said last week that he was not aware of any laws in that city that curb property owners from renting out their homes on the short-term leasing market.

However, in 2002, the city’s Zoning Board voted down a plan from a local restaurant owner to start an upscale eight-room bed and breakfast above his Washington Street restaurant. One neighbor said at the time, “The area is zoned residential and it’s not suitable to have a transient population coming into a residential neighborhood.”

Thus, the only hotel in the popular mile-square city is the W on the waterfront.

Jersey City spokeswoman Jennifer Morrill did not respond to a phone call and an e-mailed request for information regarding what laws Jersey City has in place governing short-term rentals, if any.

E-mail E. Assata Wright at awright@hudsonreporter.com.

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milu
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June 17, 2013
Isn't there an editor at the Weehawken Reporter? There's a typo in the headline in both the print and online version.

Renting ouR Your Weehawken Condo?