Local short-term rental regulation one year later

By Shawn Cunningham
©2024 Telegraph Publishing LLC

A a year ago, The Telegraph published an article about where area towns stood in dealing with short-term rentals such as AirBnb and VRBO. At Town Meeting earlier this month, Andover residents voted down making short-term rentals a conditional use while the Town of Londonderry began advertising for an administrator for its STR registry. So what’s changed in a year?

Andover: Waiting on state action

Select Board members Melissa Gates Perry and Robin Trask were uncertain about the long term consequences of a conditional use

Last year, the town’s Planning Board had sent a zoning bylaw change regarding short-term rental to the Select Board, which wanted to hear from the public and then send the question to the voters.

The question of whether the Select Board should add a conditional use for short-term rentals to the town’s zoning regulations was put to the voters by Australian ballot on Tuesday, March 5  But at the Town Meeting the night before, there were questions regarding the measure about which voters were uncertain.

Saying she would vote no, Planning Commission member Lenore Szuchman explained how conditional uses work in zoning

Even Select Board members were uncertain. One such question was whether a conditional use “follows the land” or ends when the owner of a property sells it.  Planning Board member Lenore Szuchman said that once a parcel has a conditional use, it has that use in perpetuity. She also noted that the Zoning Board of Adjustment can only reject a conditional use application if it does not meet the requirements in the zoning law. So neighbors can come to a meeting and say they don’t want an application to be approved, but that doesn’t hold sway. Szuchman said she would be voting no. On Tuesday, 122 voters joined her in rejecting the article, while 70 voted in favor.

The question of what to do about STRs now returns to the Select Board, perhaps for another year. At the March 12 board meeting, Melissa Gates-Perry moved to wait and see what the State of Vermont comes up (see Legislative Action below) with in terms of any new rules. That motion carried.

Cavendish: ‘No registration, no anything’

There wasn’t much action on short-term rentals in 2023, but in January, at the request of the Cavendish Select Board, the town Planning Commission began looking at STRs. The commission briefly looked at the issue at its January meeting, skipped it due to time limitations in February and dug into it on March 6.

Commission member Noah Schmidt warning that regulating STRs invites lawsuits Courtesy Okemo Valley TV

Commission member Noah Schmidt warned the group that restricting short-term rentals could result in lawsuits and noted that there are such suits over Burlington’s ordinance. Schmidt, who is a resident of Ludlow and was elected to that town’s Select Board on March 5, also owns Open Door Vacation Rentals which rents ski homes.

Schmidt said that regulation on septic and fire safety already exist, and additional regulation would become a “property rights thing.” He said that his data shows that Proctorsville currently has 120 short-term rentals.

Noting that his wife has been in the real estate business for many years, Commission member Bruce McEnaney said short-term rentals have always been around only through local realtors, and the current situation is the market evolving. He said he didn’t see it as a problem and wondered who would administer an STR registry and how would the town pay for it.

Commission member Miguel Seville believes that having a house on a registry might have a negative or “derogatory” connotation. Members discussed safety and noted that the state has regulations that cover fire safety.

“It’s nobody’s fault, it’s the evolution of the realty market,” said Seville. “Let it be known that Cavendish is very supportive and welcomes all Airbnb rental properties as long as they are safe.”

At the Select Board’s March 14 meeting, Town Manager Richard Chambers said the Planning Commission’s findings were “pretty much not to do anything – no registration, no anything.”

Chester: Adding restrictions to its STR ordinance

Last fall, the Chester Select Board instituted a six-month moratorium on registration of new short-term rentals that are unhosted, or without an owner living on premises. That pause expires on April 1 and, at its March 6 meeting, the board discussed several additions to the town’s STR ordinance.

Joe Karl shares his perspective with the select board

It also heard from realtor and Housing Commission member Joe Karl, who said the ordinance was “overreaching in some spots and missing in others.” The commission is charged with finding solutions to the town’s shortage of affordable housing.

Karl objected to a cap on the number of rentals in the town and felt that a density limit was too hard to administer and enforce. But, he said he understood what the board was trying to do and said state inspections for all (not just those sleep eight or fewer) and a limit on the number of days a property can be rented would be more effective. The state allows STR operators to “self certify” that they meet the requirements if they only rent to eight or fewer. But municipalities can require state inspections.

Limiting the number of rental days has been considered cumbersome and difficult to administer, but Lister Cathy Hasbrouck noted that Rentalscape – the town’s new compliance contractor – is able to provide rental numbers on STR properties. Karl said limiting the days will “send investors flying.”

In the end, the board sent a draft of the revised ordinance to town attorney Jim Carroll for a legal review. In a nutshell, it includes:

  • a waiting period before newly purchased homes could be rented,
  • a cap on the number of STRs in town,
  • a requirement that all STRs get a state inspection for fire safety
  • a limit on how many rentals one owner can have and a prohibition on corporate ownership.

When the moratorium ends on April 1, the Select Board will have to decide whether to extend it. The changes to the ordinance will not go into effect for 60 days after the board approves them and the legal review will likely push that beyond the board’s last meeting in March.

Londonderry: Looking for an STR administrator

Town Administrator Shane O’Keefe said the job would be to develop and implement the program. Telegraph file photo

On Dec. 19 of last year, the Londonderry Select Board approved the strictest (and most detailed – at seven pages) STR ordinance in the area. In the spring of 2023, the board had tabled its draft ordinance while waiting for a housing study, which when finalized estimated that there are around 140 short-term rentals in the town.

The town has begun looking for a part-time administrator to develop and implement the STR registration program. Town Administrator Shane O’Keefe told The Telegraph that $50,000 was approved at Town Meeting to hire a person and get the program running. He also noted that the town has also approved a local option tax that can contribute to the effort.

The STR administrator will report to the Select Board, which will rely on him or her to recommend how the program will roll out. The goal had been to have STR applications open in April with the deadline to register in July, but the earlier date will depend on how soon the town can hire an administrator.

Ludlow: No registry, no regulation

Ludlow joint meeting works through tie votes. Okemo Valley TV

The Town of Ludlow had formed a committee to make recommendations regarding an STR registry and, after several meetings in 2022, it recommended going ahead with one. And while questions dogged the idea, the town contracted with the host compliance company Granicus to gather information, said Town Manager Brendan McNamara.

On Jan. 24 at a public forum, the Town and Village boards heard from members of the public.

Bob Brandt, who sits on both boards, made a motion to “stop using Granicus” and not pursue a short-term rental registry saying, “I don’t think we’re ready for that.” The motion, stated in the negative led to some confusion but once it was restated, the vote was tied and thus failed. The impasse means that no action on regulation or registration of STRs will happen in the town that arguably has the largest number of such rentals in the area.

State legislative action: It’s up to the towns

Four bills have been introduced that deal with short-term rentals in the 2023/24 biennium. While one (H. 276) was passed by the House and moved to the Senate last April, no action has been taken on it this session. The others – H.449, H.684 and H.756 – appear to be going nowhere as the deadline for moving from the House to the Senate is passing. Local boards that have looked to the state for leadership in the STR arena can now see that’s not happening and can decide what’s next for their towns.

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