So-called bed and breakfasts operate illegally

Renting out your home or apartment in Ridgefield for a night, a week or even a month as a bed and breakfast on the website airbnb.com may seem like a good idea to make money, but it is patently illegal.

The website, which caters to those who want to travel and feel at home, has listings from Ridgefield including “an eclectic escape in Ridgefield”  for a whopping $975 a night, or $18,000 for a month. It advertises kitchen, Internet, TV, five bedrooms and six bathrooms.

But the one thing it does not have is a bed and breakfast permit from the Planning and  Zoning Commission. Even without an investigation, the town’s zoning enforcement officer knows that because there are only two bed and breakfast permits issued in the entire town, and only one of them is a functioning bed and breakfast.

The illegality is not a matter for the police, though. It comes under the jurisdiction of the zoning enforcement officer. Zoning cease and desist orders have been known to include fines that ratchet up to $1,000 a day.

“We take it seriously because a variety of components come into play, including fire safety,” said Richard Baldelli, the zoning enforcement officer. He also said the Health Department must inspect the premises if food is served, as would be the case in a true bed and breakfast.

The airbnb.com website lists several hundred residences and apartment purporting to be in Ridgefield. However, most are not actually in the town, Baldelli said.

He knows because he checked the website thoroughly more than a year ago after a complaint came in about a fraternity party being held at a private residence whose owners had rented it out through airbnb.

Homeowners need a specific permit from Planning and Zoning to operate as a bed and breakfast. In one case last year, a yoga school was found to be functioning as a bed and breakfast by renting out a furnished barn for the night. That turned out to be doubly illegal because it was not a residence to begin with and the building never had a permit for a converted living space, Baldelli said.

Baldelli has investigated these airbnb.com listings and knocked on doors. He said he will investigate them again and is focusing on five of the listings he knows are in Ridgefield.

“Richard has gone out and talked to people and told them it is not permitted in Ridgefield,” said Betty Brosius, the town’s planning director. She said a spot check of other towns showed it is illegal everywhere in Connecticut, with issues including various unpaid taxes including the local business tax.

The only operating legitimate bed and breakfast in town is the Green Rocks Inn, on Danbury Road.

The owner there was not pleased with the airbnb listings.

“People are utlilizing their homes, they are circumventing the fire department, licensing, circumventing income for the town. I doubt very strongly they are even paying sales taxes,” said Barbara Simkins, owner of the Green Rocks Inn.

Her prices range from $260 to $500 a night, including organic breakfast — less than what some of the airbnb.com homeowners charge.

Airbnb.com’s website claims the company was founded in 2008 and is based in San Francisco, Calif.

The company did not respond to an email request for information about the legality of the operations.

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