Chester board adopts short-term rental ordinance

By Shawn Cunningham
© Telegraph Publishing LLC

Beginning in April of next year, property owners who offer dwellings in Chester for short-term rental will have to register with the town by paying a fee and abiding by a set of health and safety regulations that are already in state law but sparsely enforced. The unanimous passage of the short-term rental ordinance at Wednesday night’s Select Board meeting will also give the town a way to collect information on the growing phenomenon.

There was relatively little discussion on the part of Select Board members since the ordinance had been discussed at meetings in October and November.

During those earlier meetings, the board had wrangled over whether to divide the rentals into those where the owner was present on the property versus those where the owner might live in another town, state or country. While several members leaned away from those distinctions, Jim Carroll, the town’s attorney, noted that most of the problems with short-term rentals occur in “un-hosted” properties and the board turned in that direction.

Board member Lee Gustafson expressed unease with government regulation but voted in favor of the ordinance. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

At the Nov. 16 meeting, board member Lee Gustafson expressed confusion with Carroll’s addition of a phrase that referred to the issuance of a registration while he was under the impression that the purpose of the ordinance was solely to collect data. Zoning Administrator Preston Bristow and Hugh Quinn, who chairs the Planning Commission that worked on the ordinance, noted that it was also a regulatory measure to ensure that health and safety rules were being observed. Board chair Arne Jonynas ended that discussion, saying that a vote would be taken on Dec. 7.

Last Wednesday, the discussion about STRs came from the public. Rich Koonz questioned why an out-of-state owner had to have a representative in either Windsor or Windham counties. Bristow explained that it was to be able to serve legal documents such as the municipal tickets that could be issued for violations of the ordinance.

North Street resident and rental host Ian Montgomery objected to the ‘host compliance’ company Granicus.

North Street resident and hosted STR owner Ian Montgomery objected  the town hiring of a particular compliance vendor – Granicus. Companies like Granicus monitor the online postings for short-term rentals and assist municipalities in enforcing their laws or zoning regulations. For example, a compliance company can tell a town that a short term rental property that’s approved for eight guests is advertising for 12 in violation of its registration. Montgomery said he had looked at the Granicus website and found the company objectionable.

Montgomery also noted that the ordinance goes into effect 60 days after Select Board adoption but that the registrations run from April 1 to March 31. He wanted to know if he needed to register and pay $150 for the interval between the effective date and April 1, 2023. Jonynas said he thought the town would be reasonable about it, but Montgomery wanted an assurance beyond that. Board member Heather Chase offered an amendment to her motion to adopt the ordinance with the first registrations being issued in April 2023 and that satisfied Montgomery.

Chester resident Nick Boke urged the board to adopt the ordinance but also to move more quickly on regulating the growth of short-term rentals in Chester.

Chester resident Nick Boke urged the board to adopt the ordinance but also to shift from “crawl” in the planning commission’s “crawl, walk, run” approach to regulating STRs. Boke noted that investors from out of the area are buying houses specifically for renting on platforms like Airbnb and VRBO.

When the vote came, all four of the members present – including Lee Gustafson,  who has expressed his skepticism about government regulation, voted to adopt the new ordinance.

Voters who disagree with the adoption of the ordinance can petition to put it to a town-wide vote. The petition must have the signatures of at least 5 percent of the town’s voter checklist.

So what’s in the new ordinance

The new ordinance defines a short-term rental as a dwelling unit rented for less than 30 consecutive days at a time and for more than 14 days in a calendar year. It excludes “tourist lodging” such as hotels, motels, inns and bed and breakfasts from registering. Those types of establishments are already inspected, licensed and regulated by the State of Vermont.

There will be two categories of rentals: hosted and un-hosted. To be a hosted, the rental must be within or on the premises of the operator’s primary residence. All others are considered un-hosted. The annual registration fee for a hosted rental is $150 while owners of un-hosted rentals will pay $300. According to All the Rooms Analytics, the current average nightly rental in Chester is $300.

The ordinance puts limits on the number of guests a rental can accommodate based on the number of bedrooms and requires self-certification for a guest capacity of eight or fewer and an inspection by and certificate of occupancy from the state fire marshal for occupancy greater than eight.

Also, the owner must provide information such as date of birth, drivers license state and number as well as military service status on the town’s registry application.  The town must collect this information so that the state Judicial Bureau will accept tickets written for violations of the ordinance. The Judicial Bureau, located in every county, has jurisdiction over civil violations including motor vehicle tickets and municipal ordinance infractions.

VLCT, 2023 budget and Andover emergency services bill discussed

  • Ted Brady, executive director of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, attended the meeting via Zoom to give the board an overview of the municipal advocacy work of league.
  • The board continued looking at the 2023 town budget, with Town Manager Julie Hance explaining the deficit for the current year and some possibilities for using American Rescue Plan Act funds to fill in the gaps. No decisions were made.
  • Hance also explained that she had given the Andover Select Board the amount for next year’s fire and ambulance service assessment. She noted that, unlike in the past, the assessment is calculated through a formula that takes into account the number of calls from the previous year. Last year the town made a calculation error in the formula but stood behind its $55,742 quote rather than the correct amount of nearly $68,000. This year, the cost of providing fire and ambulance coverage to Andover will rise to $75,599.
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