Chester planners send ordinance regulating short-term rentals to Select Board

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2022 Telegraph Publishing LLC

At a special meeting held on Monday, Aug. 22, the Chester Planning Commission put the final touches on an ordinance to register and regulate short-term rentals (such as those offered via Airbnb and VRBO) and voted to send it to the Select Board for review and adoption.

The purpose of the ordinance – as stated in the document – is to “promote the public health, safety, welfare and convenience of the town, to preserve the residents’ rights to quiet enjoyment of their homes and properties and to ensure the safety of occupants of short-term rentals.”

Select board chair Arne Jonynas tells the commission that people are telling him that the town is changing fast

Select board chair Arne Jonynas tells the commission that people are telling him that the town is changing fast

The ordinance defines short-term rentals as dwelling units that are rented for less than 30 days at a time and more than 14 days in any year. It also differentiates between rentals that are “hosted” and “unhosted,” with the difference being whether the rental takes place at the owner’s primary residence or an accessory dwelling on that property and one that isn’t.

The ordinance provides for a registration fee of $150 for hosted units and $300 for unhosted. A portion of the registration fee would go toward paying a company that monitors the short-term rental market and identifies properties that are not registered or are advertising more guests than allowed based on the number of bedrooms and the septic capacity. Such companies also send out notices of violation to the owners of rental units.

The ordinance also includes a schedule of penalties for violations and another schedule of lower waiver fees for owners who do not contest the violation. Penalties are based on the number of days an owner is in violation and start at $200/day for the first offense and can go up to $800/day for a fourth offense. A fourth offense can also result in a revocation of the short-term rental permit.

One requirement of the registration process is that the owner must provide information like date of birth, drivers license information and military status. These are required for writing a municipal ordinance violation ticket that would be heard at the Judicial Bureau, which has jurisdiction over such civil violation.

“We don’t normally have that option for something like a junk ordinance,” said Zoning Administrator Preston Bristow. “But here where (owners) have to actively apply, you can say give us the information so we can write a ticket if we have to. So I think this will be a bit easier to enforce.”

Limits needed

Stone Village resident Kathy Giurtino advocated for a more aggressive regulation that would limit the number of short-term rentals immediately. Pointing to the 80 properties currently listed for short-term rental, she referred to the idea of capping the number allowed at 10 percent, which was brought up in the commission’s meeting on Aug. 15. Bristow says those 80 properties represent 8 percent of the town’s housing stock.

Kathy Giurtino tells the board that limits on the number of short-term rentals need to be set sooner than later

Kathy Giurtino, center, says that limits on the number of short-term rentals need to be set sooner than later

“If some limits aren’t put up in the beginning, we may have legal fights down the road,” said Giurtino, noting that at the previous meeting it was said that the number of short-term rentals went up 50 percent to eighty. “What if it goes up another 50 percent this year and another 50 percent next year?”

“Do we want more than 10 percent of the houses empty?” asked Giurtino adding, “because that’s what they are, empty houses.”

Along with the ordinance and a cover letter, the commission is sending the Select Board a list of options for further and stricter regulations, what their purposes would be and the pluses and minuses of each.

Select Board chair Arne Jonynas attended the meeting and praised the commission for its work.

“It’s a lot of work that you did and it’s great that it’s here because I’m hearing from a lot of people that the town is changing fast and a lot of that is because of housing,” said Jonynas noting that the housing problems include availability and affordability, which are affected by the market for short-term rental properties.

According to Town Manager Julie Hance, the Select Board will take up the ordinance in early October. If the Select Board adopts it, the ordinance will go into force 60 days after adoption unless residents who disagree with it petition for a town-wide vote to reject it.

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  1. Thom Simmons says:

    While I think this proposal is both well-intentioned and counter-productive, that’s a long discussion. I will make this suggestion, however: the proposal makes a distinction between “hosted” and “unhosted,” “with the difference being whether the rental takes place at the owner’s primary residence or an accessory dwelling on that property and one that isn’t.”

    I believe that last phrase should read “…or an accessory dwelling on that property, or a dwelling on an adjacent property.” There is no practical difference between an accessory dwelling on the same lot two hundred feet away, and one on an adjacent lot 200 feet away with an imaginary line between them. The point is to have a local presence and oversight, and they work either way.

  2. Deborah Walker says:

    I’m sorry for the folks having issues, but I just do not like the idea of someone telling me what I can and can’t do with a house I bought. I am a native Vermonter, native to Chester and trust me the housing crises caused sooo many issues for me, however, if this plan is put into place, my future may once again be affected. I bought my house to OWN my own place, to do with as I want for me and my family. My children. I have four children.. are they all going to grow up and stay here? doubtful. They might want to rent the house out as an air bnb after I’m gone. Who knows. I don’t want those options, those FREEDOMS taken away. Register them if you must, charge for them if you must, but don’t limit them. Once you start down that road, there is no telling where it will lead. I say really and truly think about the big picture here please.

  3. B Hart says:

    We are neighbors to one of these properties and there has been nothing but problems. People running outside naked screaming until after two in the morning, grown men pissing on the stone wall right outside our windows to name a mere two! The Florida owners are not concerned about our neighborhood at all. I have tried repeatedly to reason with them with no response. Yes, they spend some money in town, yes, they may come back, but I sure hope not! The police will be my next call, quite frankly, I’m sick of it!

  4. F and C Esposito says:

    We agree these rentals should be regulated for safety and for the welfare of the community and also don’t think every other home should be a short term rental, but Chester economically relies on tourism. These rentals bring people here from everywhere and they get to experience this area and patronize local businesses. And who knows maybe some of them will move here in the future. And most of these rental properties are maintained better than properties owned by people who live here.
    Just think it is something to consider.

  5. U need to pay someone..
    Why don’t the planning committee do the work they are creating