Letter: Student Rentals More Urgent Threat to South Orange Than Airbnb

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To the Editors:

I am happy to see the Board of Trustees’ “concern about preserving the character of South Orange’s residential neighborhoods,” but want to remind them that the rental of houses to Seton Hall students is a more significant and immediate threat to our neighborhoods than Airbnb and requires their urgent attention.

The presence of transients in residential neighborhoods inherently undermines the character of those neighborhoods and undermines the feeling of safety and community for everyone living there. That is as true for a two night Airbnb rental as it is for a two semester student rental. While there may have been one or two complaints by neighbors about Airbnb rentals, there is a long history of neighbor complaints and calls to the police about student rentals.

It is long past time for the Board of Trustees to enforce our ordinance that restricts transient groups of students from calling themselves a family so they can rent houses in a single or two family zone. Over six months ago our Village Attorney and our Planner made important recommendations for what South Orange can do to significantly limit student rentals in single and two family zones. These recommendations need to be implemented, and new ordinances presented to the Board of Trustees for public debate where they are required.

Today, Airbnb rentals in South Orange are a permitted use under the ordinance governing boarders: a homeowner can have up to three boarders in their home as long as the homeowner is living in the house, the house has passed a safety inspection, and the house is registered with the Village. It is also legal for a homeowner to rent their entire house on Airbnb, again as long as they have passed inspection and have registered their home as a rental – there is no minimum rental period specified. The Board of Trustees should examine both further limits to the number of boarders and a specific minimum length of stay on boarders and whole house rentals, but as of today Airbnb rentals are legal within South Orange.

In contrast, the rental of a house to an ad hoc group of students for a school year is not legal, even if the house has passed safety inspections and is registered with the Village. So while I applaud the efforts of the Board of Trustees to pro-actively address any issues with Airbnb rentals, how much longer will we have to wait for action against illegal rentals to students? I urge the Board of Trustees to instruct the Village Administrator to enforce the existing ordinances and for the Board to enact new ordinances as required to combat the ongoing problem of student house rentals.

Michael Parlapiano
South Orange

Michael Parlapiano is a 21-year resident of South Orange. He is also a member of the South Orange Zoning Board of Adjustment; however, his opinions here are his own and do not represent the ZBA. Parlapiano previously wrote about Seton Hall housing here:

OPINION: Seton Hall Housing — What Is the Plan?

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