September 19 — With the few primaries now over, the political calendar turns to municipal elections in November. In addition to the usual discussions of taxes and spending, development, schools and open spaces, applicants should think about positioning themselves on what is becoming a big issue – how and whether to handle short-term rentals.
The issue is particularly sensitive in our coastal communities. Short-term rentals of houses, condos or apartments, using internet services such as Vrbo and Airbnb, have become a popular alternative to traditional hotel stays. Visitors find they can get a better deal or just prefer to stay in a house rather than a hotel room or bed and breakfast.
But the practice can disrupt a neighborhood, with all the comings and goings. To keep costs down, tenants may be tempted to cram an unreasonable number of people into a rented home that they would never be allowed to do in traditional accommodation.
Originally conceived as a way to earn a few extra bucks by hosting guests or renting out the house, these new internet businesses have changed the nature of property in tourist communities and resorts. Homeowners will buy homes that they could not otherwise afford on the assumption that they can raise enough funds to meet a mortgage through these short term rentals. Or they may not intend to live in the house at all.
Conversely, some middle class people find that rentals are a way to raise the money they need to stay in homes that have risen in value and therefore face higher taxes, but which did not see an increase in income to follow.
There is an inherent inconsistency. Open a hotel and you are subject to all kinds of regulations, inspections and special taxes. Market a home on Airbnb and Vrbo, essentially operating it as a hotel, and you aren’t subject to any of that.
When Mystic’s Michael Sarasin wrote a letter to the editor earlier this month about the “garbage on our properties, trespassing on lawns and docks and excessive noise” produced by short-term tenants in his neighborhood , and called on “Groton’s elect to take note,” he moved on to the most read item on theday.com website that day.
In Noank, they’ve been debating for a few years what to do with the situation there with short-term rentals. After reviewing various new zoning regulations to handle short-term rentals, the Noank Zoning Commission recently decided to enforce existing rules that do not allow them at all.
It is not clear exactly how the rule will be applied. This could prove interesting with estimates of up to three dozen short-term rental operators in the village.
If the candidate lists for the councils and the board can come up with political positions on the issue, it would allow voters to decide who they think has the best approach to this embarrassing problem. An outright ban is a step too far and would likely face legal challenges, but a reasonable degree of regulation seems in order.
What do you say, local candidates?
The Day’s Editorial Board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and meets weekly to formulate editorial perspectives. It is made up of President and Editor Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, Editor Erica Moser and retired Associate Editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the editor and the editor of the editorial page are responsible for the preparation of editorial notices. The board operates independently of the Day newsroom.