Featured in a recent Innkeeping Now article, innkeeper Vinessa Milando said although they were told by local assembly people that stand alone, tax compliant B&Bs were "not the ones the city was after" the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement cracked down on several B&Bs that have been in business for decades. One well-known B&B closed, and others were left with fines and legal fees amounting to approximately $17,000 per business, she said.
"We were left with no choice but to organize. Our members’ buildings are exclusively used as a bed and breakfast and our utmost concern is for the safety of our guests. We are code-compliant and tax-compliant in every way.” StayNYC, with Milando as president was launched as a non-profit trade association of New York City bed and breakfast owners who are now lobbying for an exemption to the Ch. 225 law. (See the full Innkeeping Now article here.)
As Milando prepares to testify in front of the New York Assembly in the coming weeks, she is quick to point out that similar legislative dilemmas aren't something exclusive to the Big Apple's B&Bs. It is a huge reminder that innkeepers must be actively involved in the governing of their businesses.
Milando, who owns Ivy Terrace Bed and Breakfast, said the new law blindsided innkeepers. "We made sure we were aware of tax laws and bed tax exemptions or changes, because being tax compliant is something all our members feel very strongly about. But that was it. I can safely say that our members were not involved in state or local politics as it relates to tourism or travel."
"Changes can happen without your knowledge," said Pattie Detwiler, managing director of the Florida Bed and Breakfast Inns Association and owner of The Quilter's Inn Bed and Breakfast. "It could be licensing requirements or deregulations, insurance requirements, etc..."
With the looming possibility of her bed and breakfast and others being forced to close, Milando is very vocal about encouraging innkeepers to become actively involved in their city, county and state governments. "These folks work for you."
Some bed and breakfast associations across the nation have taken notice and actively lobby as well as educate fellow innkeepers. Florida and Ohio associations are just two examples.
Debbie Miller, owner of HideAway Country Inn in Bucyrus, OH, and board member of the Ohio Hotel and Lodging Association, agrees that B&B owners must get involved in their state government. "Be involved," she said. "Everything the legislature does affects your top line and your bottom line. From bed tax to regulatory items. And it varies within each state, and from state to state."
Miller, who has been active in her state government for more than 18 years, is well-versed in everything from bed-tax implications to ADA regulations and has taken an active role in helping quash many proposed bills that would negatively affect the hospitality industry. One of those bills occurred after a B&B caught fire and the owners did not live on-site. The proposed legislation dictated that all owners must either live on-site or would need to spend a great deal of money installing direct-wired emergency alarms. The financial burden would be enormous for Mom and Pop businesses, Miller said. "We were able to get that stopped."
But how does an innkeeper jump into the political arena? Where do they begin? Will it really make an impact?
"You can be a very small fish and have a very big impact," said Miller. "Look at each B&B as votes. A lot of people don't look at it that way. One Owner equals One Vote."
Miller, Milando and Detwiler all agree that lobbying is a grassroots business and can begin very organically.
"I would say the most important thing is to be involved on a local level first. Get to know your representatives, council members and/or assembly people. And more importantly make sure they know YOU and your business," Milando said. "The time to 'make friends' is now. On a state level it will be a little more of a challenge to get face time, but again, learn who these people are, get on their mailing/e-mail lists, and yes, attend fundraisers, and donate where you think it's appropriate. You could even offer to host a fundraiser. Why not! You have a beautiful place, right?"
Miller agreed. "It's a great way to have tours of your place in off-hours. A great marketing tool. Remember, legislators are potential guests."
"It goes back to that whole grassroots effort. Whether email, faxing or texting -- it can all change a legislator's mind," said Miller.
Worried your lone voice won't be heard among all the other legislative chatter? Find strength in numbers. Form alliances within the hospitality industry.
"Alliances are not simply important, they are imperative,"
Huge support can also be found through Jay Karen and PAII and BedandBreakfast.com. "To anyone who is not a PAII member, I strongly suggest you join. They have a wealth of information and resources.,"
Most importantly, don't bury your head in the sand and assume, because your state is pro-small business or eager to increase the tourism industry, will be protected. "Do not believe 'it couldn't happen here,'" Milando said. "Learn from the Titanic. Nothing is unsinkable. Keep a sharp eye out for icebergs. It is much easier to avoid them if you see them coming."
The B&B industry in the U.S. is a young one, Milando said. It is often misunderstood, and defining it is a challenge. "That being said, define yourselves -- and get it put on the books -- form alliances, make sure your fellow B&B owners are operating openly and honestly."
8 Keys to Getting Involved, Quickly
Get to know and even make friends with your representatives and senators on a state level.
Introduce yourself to your county commissioners. They are, depending on the state, the people who influence and inact the bed tax.
Make sure those council members, commissioners and representatives know you and your business.
Get involved with your state and county board of health. Your Served Safe Certified kitchen might be a perfect training facility for the board of health's newest bed and breakfast inspectors.
Open up your bed and breakfast for a community legislative "meet-and-greet"
Subscribe to the legislator's e-mails, newsletters, websites, etc...
Attend fundraisers and occasionally, when warranted, donate. This donation could also be in trade -- offering up a room to a legislator or hosting an event at your inn.
Tune in to legislative buzz words and topics like: housing, hotels, zoning, vacation rentals, tourism, and even tenants, if you are in a city.
Want to Help?
StayNYC is actively seeking signatures for their petition that will be presented to the New York Assembly. For more information and to sign the petition on Facebook, check out their website: www.staynyc.org