According to the West Chester Borough Code, Chapter 102-304, Section 201, “Permitted uses” for a “dwelling” are, well, limited. “Exclusively for residential purposes,” the code states which goes onto explain it excludes transient uses such as “hotel, rooming house, club or lodge.” In other words, no Airbnbs in the Borough. Except that there are. Plenty.
A quick search on the Airbnb website turned up nearly a dozen options, including six Superhosts, and one currently running a holiday special. So where exactly does the Borough stand on short-term rentals, described as any rental or transactional stay under 30 days, and why did it decide to bring a case against one resident and not any of the others?
Shortly after moving into her new home on W. Union Street earlier this year, Dr. Krupa Daniel, a doctor of internal medicine and infectious disease (Fun fact: she took care of the second confirmed COVID-19 case in Pennsylvania), was delivered a cease and desist letter from the Borough asking her to stop renting units of her Union Street home on Airbnb. The historic home which Krupa purchased earlier this year, sits a block off of High Street and is divided into four units. The first two units are long-term rentals, the third, previously long-term, is now being rented as an Airbnb as is the inlaw suite of the fourth unit where Krupa lives. It is with the short-term rentals that the Borough has a problem.
According to Krupa, the previous owners also used the space as an Airbnb and that allowance was even included in the real estate discussion prior to her purchase of the home — although perhaps it shouldn’t have been. At a Borough Council Working Session earlier this year, the case was discussed and it was agreed the Borough solicitor should be sent to defend the ordinance and deny the rental.
“Right now our ordinance does not allow [Airbnbs] under several different sections,” Building and Housing Director Kevin Gore told Council. “Since this a use variance we typically like to oppose those,” he said. The argument being, if one use variance is approved it would open the gates to all use variances being approved.
“Are we defending the ordinance of no Airbnbs?” Borough Councilman Bernie Flynn asked Mr. Gore. When Mr. Flynn got a yes, he replied. “Very good.”
Except it is still not clear why the Borough, if seemingly adamant against the operation of Airbnbs, has only pursued four such cases since 2019 and only Krupa’s this year when several of her neighbors operate similar setups.
I reached out to Mr. Gore for clarification on the exact criteria his team was using to determine which cases to pursue but he refused to discuss any aspect of the case. I also asked why the Borough is against Airbnbs in the first place. While I did not get a response from the Borough, research has found that the widespread presence of such rentals can be detrimental to the local housing and rental markets. So much so, it has its own term the “Airbnb effect.”
From her perspective, and other residents who use their homes to earn extra cash, the rooms provide a valuable service. Krupa said her rooms have been used by wedding guests in for the weekend, family members visiting university students, even a couple in town as they waited for an adoption to be finalized. There have been no police calls or noise violations reported against the property, but there were complaints filed regarding parking. Although even in this, Krupa feels singled out.
“I’ve been told that some people were complaining about parking, but they denied me parking permits for my long-term tenants. Not sure why this special rule for me when other multi-unit properties get parking for long-term tenants,” she said. To Krupa, who was born in India, the complaint feels personal.
“Being a woman of color, this is very typical of many acts of systemic racism I have gone through in my life. It is disappointing and I hope people in the community will speak up against this and ask for more transparency in the government,” she said via email.
The dispute is scheduled to go before the Zoning Board in January.
Published, Dec. 2, 2022
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