Seaside Heights will allow all of its motels move up to a 50 percent occupancy rate come June 15, but if an owner agrees to limit guests to those age 21 or more, they will be able to offer a 100 percent rate. All motels will be able to return to 100 percent occupancy come June 29. Additionally, restrictions on rentals through online marketplaces such as Airbnb and VRBO have expired permanently.
The issue with higher motel occupancy rates, borough officials said, is a critical lack of special police officers for the next several weeks. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, police academies were closed, preventing resort towns from hiring seasonal officers. In Seaside Heights, trouble (traditionally involving underage drinking) in June has historically be driven by rental units – homes and motels – occupied by teens, often celebrating graduation. The borough last year placed permanent restrictions on motels to rent to guests 18-year-old and over. The regulation would require motel owners to agree in writing and guarantee someone 21 or older was physically occupying the room.
“We’ll cut to the chase – if you’re willing to spare the high school rentals, we can increase your capacity,” said Borough Administrator Christopher Vaz.
One motel owner said he would rather have 50 percent occupancy than give up teen rentals.
“There’s no way I’m going to fill up 100 percent with families in June, especially with no amusements and no restaurants,” said Ron Bernkopf, owner of the Colony Motel. “We can manage the booking we’re getting, we’re not talking that many people. Come July 1, we’re 100 percent all families, but this month in the middle of the month I have to do what I have to do.”
The borough was able to add a single special officer to the roster at its meeting Wednesday, but normally hires dozens for the season. The police academies are operating again and it is expected that a new crop of officers will be trained in time for July.
Motel owners face an uncertain season, even after the occupancy rate moves to 100 percent June 29. While restaurants will be able to limitedly open outdoor sections and non-essential retail business will be open, but likely with reduced capacities and social distancing requirements, or potentially the obligation to wear masks. Pools at motels are still not allowed to be open for swimming, and amusements, rides and games are not among the businesses Gov. Phil Murphy said could open on June 15 or June 22, when most of the state’s other businesses can resume some level operations.
“There have been numerous requests to the governor’s office from all over the state on the issues of hotel pools and pool clubs,” said Borough Attorney Jean Cipriani. “The indication is that they’re going to be looking at that issue and addressing it.”
“We’re getting there,” said Borough Councilman Louis DiGiulio. “It’s starting to open up a little bit at a time, following what the governor is telling us to do, and we’re being optimistic.”