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Monday March 19, 2018


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The Party's Over: New Township Ordinance Cracks Down on Short-Term Rentals

The Montgomery Township Committee, reacting to raucous gatherings and multiple violations of peace at 129 Kildee Road in Skillman, approved an ordinance banning home rentals in town for a period of less than 30 days.

The driver of the ordinance was one-day parties held after renters (promoters) discovered homes in Montgomery or nearby towns through Airbnb, the latest taking place on Sunday evening July 30. The ordinance was introduced July 20 as neighbors packed the courtroom at the municipal building to complain about the partying. Renters must be now able to produce a lease indicating such terms.
The Township claims, "Community concern due to the potential for increased traffic, noise, litter, sanitation issues, high occupant turnover, and increased density in residential neighborhoods."
Township Committee has gone a step ahead and forced Airbnb's website to change any advertised Montgomery rentals to include a one-month minimum stay.

The latest rave, one of several held at the same Kildee Road home this summer, was touted online "One Big Pool Party" with hookahs and a full bar, promoted by "Partybyjuelz" on Eventbrite. Residents say tickets were sold, and one neighbor held up a pink wristband that guests 21 and over wore and discarded on their street.

Montgomery officials told 35 residents at the August 3 Committee meeting they reported the illegal activity of alcohol sales to the appropriate agency, the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), a state authority under the New Jersey Attorney General. An investigation to determine a fourth-degree felony is now underway.

The home is owned by Frank and Wendy Ellmo, who live in Tennessee, but it's in foreclosure from deed holder Wells Fargo Bank. Township officials say they contacted the homeowners and Wells Fargo about the property's misuse, violations, and neighbors' complaints.

As the Township Committee voted on August 3, member Patricia Graham had to recuse herself from voting because her law firm handles accounts related to Wells Fargo Bank. The ordinance 0quickly passed, 3-0. Township Administrator Donato Nieman says it essentially gives MTPD officers a necessary tool for enforcement if another party or event disturbs the neighborhood.

Police Captain and Director Tom Wain said the MTPD has to respect the fact that people at parties have rights, and officers "Can't go in there heavy-handed." He said the police and township are delicately handling the situation, "Making sure we are on solid ground, taking actions legally."

Administrator Nieman said notice of the new ordinance will be delivered to the property. "With cooperation from MTPD we contacted the person who acts as the host for the property and we told them this cannot continue, there will be an ordinance in place to limit the number of people and length of time a property can be rented. We contacted the ABC as the sale of alcohol there is a violation of the law, and we're very aggressive in pursuing that. The Health Department is involved and looking at the possibility of revoking the septic license for the house as it is not approved for the number of people using the place. Also zoning issues they violated are involved. We put Wells Fargo on notice as an asset they hope to recover their loans on are at risk. Our township attorneys have also contacted the foreclosure attorney for Wells Fargo," Nieman said.

He added that under state statute the township does not have the authority to physically remove violators (occupants) from the property on the basis of the rental. The goal was instead giving the township "every tool to make this as onerous as possible."

Mayor Ed Trzaska commented on the July 30 event, with 150 people and 110 cars counted on Kildee and adjacent roads. His initial reaction was to zoning violations. "You cannot run an event venue out of a residential property. But ordinances we had seemed to have a lot of loopholes. If the renters spent the night it is a real rental and not just an event. After consideration Township Attorney Kristina Hadinger focused on this ordinance idea as the best way to prevent and deal with it. For short-term rental prohibition a lot of towns in New Jersey, and New York City itself, have passed a similar ordinance," he said.
Michael Cohen and his wife Donna live right across from 129 Kildee Road. He collected data on events, took photos of excessive garbage on the front lawn and parking near the property. He hopes the ordinance can protect property values in the neighborhood. "I think the Committee and police department are doing a great job, and I'm confident this will resolve the problem," Cohen said.

Emad Youseff of Kildee Road wondered at the August 3 public hearing if a $1,500 fine would be enough to deter party hosts from breaking the law again.

Nieman and Mayor Trzaska told him that for each person that is a renter of the home or party organizer, one summons and fine could be given. The homeowner (the Ellmos) would also be fined and need to appear in the local New Jersey court. Guests of any parties and events would not be subject to the fines, however.

Mayor Trzaska said Montgomery needed the ordinance as a resource to enforce residential use.
Nieman said the house party phenomena, advertised online, is beginning to happen in towns across the state, calling it "an evolving problem with Airbnb." He believes the law will soon evolve to deal with these events. Township Committeeman Mark Conforti said he suspects the organizers will soon find another area to host parties in and evade regulations rather than give up the concept altogether.

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