Short-term rentals: Towns’ pace for regulation between snail and speedy State legislature, however, puts the onus on local jurisdictions

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2023 Telegraph Publishing LLC

While the growth in the number of homes in area towns that are being converted into short-term rentals — like Airbnb and VRBO — is concerning to many residents, state and local governments are moving at different paces to address the trend.

The Vermont legislature has taken a run at passing bills to regulate short-term rentals and create a statewide registry and regulations for them several times but with little success. Instead, it voted to give the regulatory authority to each of Vermont’s 250-plus municipalities, saying that towns and cities can “regulate by means of an ordinance or bylaw the operation of short-term rentals within the municipality” and defines short-term rentals as “a furnished house, condominium, or other dwelling room or self-contained dwelling unit rented to the transient, traveling, or vacationing public for a period of fewer than 30 consecutive days and for more than 14 days per calendar year.”

Currently, there are two bills before the legislature that would create registries. H. 449, a bill sponsored by Tesha Buss of Woodstock and Kelly Pajala of Londonderry, would create a registry specifically for short-term rentals. H. 276, sponsored by Tom Stevens of Waterbury, would create a registry for all rentals in the state. And while the latter has the potential to run into more opposition, Stevens is the chair of the first committee it needs to pass through — the House Committee on General and Housing.

Since The Chester Telegraph reported extensively on the issue last October, here is what has been happening in our communities.

Andover: Zoning amendment will need public vote

The Andover Select Board discusses an amendment to the town’s zoning regulations regarding short-term rentals. Images courtesy of Okemo Valley TV

Joe Fromberger, chair of Andover’s Zoning Board of Adjustment, told Andover’s 2023 Town Meeting that the Select Board had asked the ZBA to look at the situation and make recommendations. At first Fromberger had been in favor of an ordinance, but the board wanted a zoning bylaw to regulate the short-term rentals. The difference between the two is that an ordinance can be approved by a vote of the select board, and the town can then assess penalties (like tickets that go to a court) for non-compliance. The bylaw can only be approved by a town vote and enforcement is through zoning, which can be less immediate and more expensive.

The ZBA sent a zoning bylaw change to the select board in September of 2022 and since then the bylaw and revisions to it have been discussed at several meetings. At town meeting Select Board member Robin Trask told those attending that she wanted the public to attend the required hearings and weigh in on the proposed bylaw change and then vote on it. The proposed zoning changes can be found here. The short-term rental section begins on page 20.

Cavendish stalled after ‘energy chapter’ kerfuffle

With some upheaval between the Cavendish Select Board and its Planning Commission over adopting an energy chapter — which resulted in two commission members resigning —  there hasn’t been much movement on short-term rentals. Outgoing Town Manager Brendan McNamara told The Telegraph that there has been discussion of the topic, but nothing has happened so far.

Chester moves ahead with registry, identifying STRs

With a short-term rental ordinance on the books since Dec. 7, 2022, Chester’s Planning and Zoning office has hired the “host compliance” company called Granicus and is working to put a registration process online.

Zoning Administrator Preston Bristow explaining a point about the proposed short-term ordinance at a select board meeting last year.

According to Zoning Administrator Preston Bristow, about half a dozen owners of short-term rentals have called to sign up for the registry prescribed by the ordinance but the town is still getting the details ready to roll it out.

Bristow said that Granicus has identified 97 short-term rentals but needs to “geo-locate” them to make sure they are in Chester, then match them with the town’s grand list. He said he did not know how many of those might be individual rooms in inns or bed and breakfasts that advertise on short-term rental platforms. Those would not be covered by the ordinance since they are already complying with state regulations specific to them.

Once a list of rentals is identified the owners will be sent a letter from Bristow on official Chester stationery outlining how to comply with the ordinance.

“I did this in Killington and know how it works,” said Bristow.  “The town is using Granicus for assistance, but we control the process.”

Londonderry tables draft ordinance while awaiting housing study

Londonderry has a draft ordinance that members of its Select Board have been looking at, but Town Administrator Shane O’Keefe told The Telegraph that, with a new housing study coming out shortly, that draft is off the table for now.  According to O’Keefe, the committee that worked on the housing study will make a presentation of that document to the Select Board at its next meeting, which is on Monday, April 3.

At Town Meeting, Derry voters passed a 1 percent local option tax for rooms that would include short-term rentals.

Ludlow action stalled amid questions of ‘host compliance’

The Ludlow Rental Registry Committee at its last meeting Image courtesy of Okemo Valley TV

The Ludlow Town Select Board appointed a committee last year to look at the question of regulating short-term rentals. In September, that committee recommended that the Select Board go ahead with a registry. The Select Board has kicked the idea around since then, but questions of how “host compliance” would be done and who would pay for it and whether the Ludlow Village Board would participate have held up any progress. The Rental Registry Committee held its last meeting in September, according to the minutes on the town’s website.

Weston rejects local control over short-term rentals

Weston’s Select Board has said – in so many words – that regulating short-term rentals is up to the state of Vermont in the same way that regulating motels, inns and B&Bs is not a local issue. Longtime watchers of the board, which has spoken negatively about state initiatives that take away local power, must scratch their heads at the board’s rejection of state-granted authority to regulate on behalf of residents.

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  1. Raymond Makul says:

    In Andover, we have no formal survey to identify how many short term rental properties exist. Over a year ago, I found more than 20 via internet searches. But this is undoubtedly out of date and not complete. By existing zoning regulations, any short term rental operating without a permit is illegal. Period. Our town needs to pull its head out of the sand and address this growing problem which is removing properties from those available for owner occupancy and long term rental to bona fide residents.