York County entrepreneurs offer visitors an alternative to hotels


This is not just any house on the rental market for $750 per night.

Custom-built from top to bottom, the Wrightsville property beckons guests with a list of unusual amenities — a brick-oven pizza, an indoor movie theater, an orchard of fruit trees, a sauna and two bars.

And, if that's not enough, there're also two 6-foot lion statues inside to ogle.

"You can't get that feel from a traditional Motel 6," said Jon Gregis, friend and business partner of the man who actually owns this York County chateau. "You're paying for an experience that you couldn't get anywhere else."

Across York County, people are advertising their properties for short-term rental stays on Airbnb, an online marketplace that boasts more than 1 million listings worldwide.

For Gregis and his business partner, the service indulges their entrepreneurial spirit.

"You can rent it out for a day to a week to a month to numerous months to somebody that is in the area for work or is just traveling for a couple of days," said Gregis, 25. "Would you rather have a villa in Miami that looks over the beach or would you rather have a (hotel) bedroom that numerous people sleep in over and over again?"

The cottage: Even though York County "isn't exactly a vacation spot," there's still a demand here for short-term lodging, said Mark Gillespie, who advertises his "dollhouse cottage" for $150 per night.

For example, Gillespie said, he's found unexpected success marketing his Springettsbury Township property's proximity to Hersheypark. He said he's also had a family rent the house while they were in the area for a show at the York Expo Center. A Baltimore couple recently biked their way to York County and rented Gillespie's cottage for a place to crash.

Gillespie, 49, said he's trying the short-term rental game for a second time after an unsuccessful attempt about five years ago.

Back then, Gillespie was recently divorced and looking for a way to pay two mortgages. He also owns a small apartment building in York City, where he currently lives.

But long-term lease arrangements were disappointing, he said.

"I couldn't get anybody to pay me a decent rent on a continuous basis and take care of my house and be responsible," Gillespie said. "I was looking for an alternative to the standard year-lease business model."

Business is good during the warmer months, Gillespie said, but he's bracing for a slow winter.

Airbnb offers credibility and insurance to this new business arena, Gregis said. If someone trashes a rental property, Airbnb will reimburse the owner.

In exchange for that security, the service takes a small percentage of each rental transaction, Gregis said.

A new arena: In terms of regulation, this might be a case of government getting a bit behind business trends.

For example, in York City, a local ordinance "requires that all tenant-occupied residential properties be licensed," Steve Buffington, the city's building-code official, said in an email.

"Therefore, even short-term rentals would have to comply," he said.

Shilvosky Buffaloe, the city's economic and community development director, concurred.

"I don't think the marketing platform changes the obligations of the property owner under the ordinance," Buffaloe said in an email. "A rental unit is a rental unit and should be licensed and inspected accordingly to ensure public safety. However, there may be some subtle nuance with how the shorter term stays should be classified."

Buffaloe said he's observed that more people are renting properties while the property is listed for sale, "and that represents a new arena for many municipalities."

The rules are a bit different in Manchester Township, where rental-property inspections are not required.

However, landlords are required to notify the township of tenants' names and the property's address within 10 days of move-in, said Stewart Olewiler, the township's zoning and planning officer.

"So if it is a short-term stay for five days, then the timeline would pass," Olewiler said in an email. "But if there is a new tenant every week then the use becomes something different than a dwelling unit. Perhaps it would have to be considered a rooming house or a motel and then the zoning ordinance would be applied as well as the building code. Each case would have to be looked at."

Gillespie said he's registered his cottage as a rental and had it inspected as such. Gregis, however, said he's not aware of any particular requirements for short-term rentals.

Living for free: To make the matter more complicated, not all Airbnb listings offer a full property for rent.

Many listings, including some in York County, advertise a single room available in an otherwise occupied house.

Steady rental income could pay most or all of a homeowner's mortgage, Gregis said.

"They're living for free then," he said.

Especially in this post-recession economy, short-term rentals make a lot of sense, Gregis said.

"It's a way to really take control of your own property," he said.

— Reach Erin James at ejames@yorkdispatch.com.