Ordinance influenced by activity at ‘Ali House’ approved on first reading

New legislation calls for an end to short-term rentals of township residences.

At its most recent meeting, Cherry Hill Township Council unanimously approved, on first reading, an ordinance that restricts short-term property rentals in the municipality to terms of 30 days or more.  

The new piece of legislation was crafted in large part due to the volume of complaints by residents on the 1100 block of Winding Drive in the township’s Springdale section. Neighbors on that street have been privy to, over the last several years, issues ranging from noise violations to drug and alcohol abuse on a property known as the “Ali House,” which at one time served as a home to the late boxing champion and humanitarian Muhammad Ali.

However, Cherry Hill Mayor Chuck Cahn pointed out the ordinance was not targeted solely at a single residence, but also due to concerns of other residents across the township.

“We are at a point where we have an obligation to manage the impact that these short-term rentals are having on our neighborhoods, while balancing and respecting the property rights of our residents to rent out their homes. This ordinance is designed to safeguard the peace, safety, and general welfare of our residents and neighborhoods,” he said in a statement issued shortly before the meeting on Sept. 9. 

As he did at the council meeting on Aug. 19 when the issue was first brought to light in a public forum, Winding Drive resident John Berrigan emphasized the need for keeping the peace, and praised council for acting on their concerns. 

“Our concern is to protect the residents of Cherry Hill,” said Councilwoman Carolyn Jacobs. “And in the case of Winding Drive, our residents are not being protected.”

Several residents spoke out against the intended legislation, calling it ultimately disadvantageous to the township, since certain Airbnb properties are rented out, in longer terms, to conscientious renters who are looking for temporary housing due to a variety of factors. 

“I set it up as an Airbnb so I could get some references and reviews. From January to November, I had 22 people stay for various reasons: the birth of a grandchild, a family member being ill, or people with young children who don’t want to stay in a hotel where doors are being slammed at six in the morning. I had all different reasons for people staying, and there was never a problem at my property. If you have problems with certain hosts and certain landlords, deal with those landlords, give them the ‘three strikes and you’re out.’ There are responsible landlords and there are irresponsible landlords. You can get a long-term rental person who’s a pain in the butt to the neighborhood, so it doesn’t matter if it’s short-term or long-term, but there is a need,” said Donna Topham, who resides on Deer Terrace and owns an Airbnb rental property close by.

According to the Airbnb website, there are more than four dozen rental listings in Cherry Hill. However, Mayor’s Chief of Staff Erin Patterson Gill told those in attendance that while her own search yielded only three such listings, the numbers fluctuate throughout the year and usually peak in summer. 

Gill additionally stated there is an exception in current state statutes, for adults 55-and-over, to rent out a room in their primary residence on either a short-term or long-term basis. 

“We need to preserve the integrity of our neighborhoods, and on balance, we think this is very important for all of us. For so many, this has been an ongoing issue: for the police, and for zoning, and although we can’t stop it just by passing the ordinance, we know that giving the tools to the zoning (board) and to the police, this is an important first step,” Cahn stated at the meeting. 

Included in the ordinance are maximum penalties of fines up to $2,000 per day and up to 90 days in jail for those found in violation. 

Having passed its first reading, the ordinance will be considered for adoption following a second reading and public comment during council’s session on Sept. 23. If adopted, the ordinance will become effective Nov. 1. 

In other news

  • Council issued a proclamation to Elby Wang, coordinator for the Cherry Hill Public Library’s English as a Second Language Program. Also honored were CHPL director Laverne Mann, as well as ESL tutors Joanna Paixão Amaral, Victoria Clement, Julie Kligerman, Audrianne Levene, Phyllis Levitas, Mark Pinzur, Alan Ziskin, Laura Colau and Lisa Grant. 
  • Council also unanimously passed, on second reading, an ordinance that allows the 2020 budget to exceed appropriation limits, and that also establishes a cap bank for potential future use.