Great Barrington is developing regulations for short term rentals. It’s still stuck on “purpose and intent” | South Berkshires

Rental sign in Great Barrington

This billboard recently appeared in Great Barrington, visible to southbound drivers on State Road, just north of the town centre. The city is working on legislation that would potentially limit short-term rentals in the community, where long-term rentals are rare.

GREAT BARRINGTON — Five months into its efforts to finalize a proposal regulating Airbnb-style short-term rentals, the Select Board was unable on Tuesday to move beyond the second sentence of the first section , titled “Objective and Intent”.

A key sticking point remains whether the city should use its authority to pressure second home owners who rent out their property either by abandoning the short-term rental market for the long-term rental market, or while selling. Freeing up housing for long-term use was a stated goal of Leigh Davis, vice-chairman of the Select Board, who drafted the original proposal last fall.

The majority of public reaction to the proposal has been negative. Tuesday’s meeting made it clear that members of the select committee themselves do not unanimously agree on what the settlement might accomplish or even its intentions.

Even after an attempt by city officials late last year to downplay how the settlement could free up housing for long-term rentals, Davis, in his opening remarks Tuesday, again spoke about the settlement as part of a “multifaceted puzzle”. to make more homes available for year-round use.

A short-term rental by-law in Great Barrington would not 'magically create' more long-term housing, some say

“I guarantee you that when we’re done, no one will be happy with this advice, but hopefully we’ve accomplished something – and we haven’t tonight,” the board chairman said. , Stephen Bannon.

The select council can discuss the proposed settlement again at its next meeting on Jan. 24, subject to the council receiving the data it requested from city staff. This data includes the number of existing properties offering short-term rentals, how many are owned by businesses, how many are owned by LLCs, and the average value of those properties owned by businesses.

One of the considerations, proposed by board member Ed Abrahams, is to adopt a by-law similar to the one passed by Stockbridge voters at the annual town hall meeting last June.

“What I love about Stockbridge is that he does what he says he’s trying to do,” Abrahams said. “He’s doing something he can To do. It went before the Attorney General, so we know it’s legal with no legal fees.

After Tuesday’s meeting, Davis pointed out what she sees as a problematic part of Stockbridge’s bylaw: that it doesn’t prohibit LLCs from offering short-term rentals. Indeed, some in Stockbridge have said that not restricting LLCs remains a weak point in that city’s bylaws.

Under Great Barrington’s draft by-law as it currently stands – including revisions made by the town’s planning board – short-term rentals would be limited to properties which serve as the primary and permanent residence of owners or to units located on the same tax plot as the main and permanent residence of the owners. Other stipulations include health and safety issues and reduced commercial activity in residential neighborhoods. Landlords offering property for short-term rental should register with the city.

To come into effect, the proposed by-law must be approved at the spring municipal meeting.

In a statement she read at the start of the meeting on Tuesday, Davis highlighted the city’s crisis over the availability of long-term rentals and the need to discourage out-of-town investors from buying homes. for short term rentals.

“According to the Massachusetts Department of Revenue,” she said, “there are 200 short-term rentals in Great Barrington, but there are no properties available for long-term rentals. Fifty-six short-term rentals belong to investors. These 56 properties could be homes for families looking to move here, elderly people looking to downsize or be closer to their children, apartments for essential workers or foster homes for young couples.

“Reducing demand from speculators is key,” she said. “The primary residence requirement in this proposed bylaw is intended to deter speculators from buying for-profit housing that might otherwise be available to residents and to bring prices down to reasonable levels that restore balance to this community. .”

Abrahams on Tuesday noted that few homeowners in the city would support an initiative to reduce home values.

“I guess what I’m looking for is, what are we trying to accomplish?” said Abrahams. “What is the probability that he will accomplish this?” What are the costs, then the cost-benefit ratio? »

He stressed he would support a settlement that would seek to end the practice of people buying houses and renting them out only as short-term rentals. But he suggested the city has more powerful tools to create long-term housing. Specifically, he noted what are called secondary suites (UDAs), which are either attached to the main dwellings or separate structures on the same property.

“Almost every one of us has a backyard with room for an ADU,” he said. “The city could encourage people to build ADUs and give tax abatements when you do. We don’t do that,” he said. “We don’t talk about that. That’s what we should be talking about. »

Tuesday’s board never got beyond the second sentence of the proposed settlement, which begins: “In addition, this section is intended to reduce commercial activity in residential neighborhoods….”

Abrahams said the language was too vague. Any type of rental, including short term and in the long run, can be considered a “commercial activity”, he said.

He also said he had an “extreme problem” with the way the proposal, as written, does not distinguish real estate speculators from the many landlords in the city who have relied on the income they generate from short-term rental of goods that would not fall. in the principal residence category.

“I would also like to stop the speculators,” he said, speaking to Davis. “You’re also arresting someone who’s lived here all their life and is retiring to Florida and spending more than six months there. … If I have a second home, if I move to Florida, and I can’t keep my house empty, I have to sell it or rent it all year round and not use it, so I can’t come back.

“Why are we doing this? ” he said. “Why do we want to do this to our people who have lived here all their lives, who have invested in this community, who have raised their children here? Why do you want to tell them that they can’t keep their house unless they rent it out all year and not use it? »

Abrahams continued, “I don’t see how to take some taxpayer owners and treat them any differently than others – taxpayer members who are part of this community, who support the things we do here, who buy from our stores, who hire contractors here – I don’t see how treating them differently solves this problem.

“I’m sorry if second home owners are being swept away,” Davis said, “but we have a housing crisis, and people with second homes have options.”

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