At last April’s Annual Town Meeting, voters approved a new Town Bylaw requiring the licensing of properties that are renting rooms to short-term guests. A short-term guest is defined as a person staying five consecutive nights or less. The new bylaw takes effect the first of January, 2017. The Board of Selectmen reviewed the bylaw at their December 5 meeting.
With the growing popularity of properties in town that cater to the short-term renting of rooms, the need arose to monitor such uses for the safety of renters and the tranquility of neighborhoods. The annual licensing process, while relatively simple, provides a structure for ensuring basic safety measures are in place and, equally important, provides a mechanism to resolve conflicts in a neighborhood should they arise.
The application process to the Board of Selectmen asks property owners to describe their rental activity, citing the number of rooms rented and whether meals are provided. Confirmation is needed that the home complies with Board of Health regulations and Fire Department safety measures. A secondary contact person is required in case problems arise and the owner is not available. And the owner must keep a guest registry which the Town can request to review. A $100 application fee is required at the time of application.
The Building Inspector will be the primary enforcement agent of the new bylaw under my supervision. Violators of the bylaw are subject to a $300 daily fine. The Building Inspector can request a hearing before the Board of Selectmen for persistent violators. A hearing can also be requested by the Selectmen on their own or through the petition of abutters aggrieved by activity related to the rental of rooms to short-term guests.
Property owners who wish to obtain a license for short-term rentals are encouraged to download the application from the Town’s website. Questions about the process can be brought to the Building Department at Town Hall. Given that this is a new process we may discover the need for refinement of the recently approved bylaw; we will be monitoring the process to see what, if any, changes might be worthwhile exploring.
Catering to short-term guests in one’s home introduces a type of heightened activity that may be new to a residential neighborhood. Owners are encouraged to be mindful of potential impacts to their neighbors. For example, late night arrivals or early morning departures can introduce unwelcome noise to a quiet street. Clear directions should be given so as to avoid guests knocking on the wrong door. And parking can be a sensitive issue as well. A good strategy is to have a welcome booklet that provides a thorough orientation to guests of the neighborhood and requested norms to follow.
The so-called “sharing economy” has both its pluses and minuses. Hopefully, an appreciation of everyone’s needs can lead to minimal conflicts and a smooth transition as we implement this new bylaw.