In Narragansett, short-term rental debate weighs on landlord rights and community concerns

Much of why it likely won’t pass without revisions was on display Tuesday night, when city council held a workshop on the proposal at city hall.

“If you go ahead with this, you might as well put a sign on 95 that says ‘Tourists Not Welcome,'” said George Nonis, a resident who is president of the Narragansett 2100 homeowners group.

The people behind “the most anti-corporate ordinance the city has ever seen”, Nonis said, were trying to make Narragansett an elite, serving the interests of a few people at the expense of everyone else. Before anything is implemented, the city needs to consider the economic effects and determine the extent of the real problem, Nonis said.

Still, some people who spoke on Tuesday, and others in Narragansett more generally, say the city needs to do something about short-term rentals, which they blame not just for nuisance issues like parking and loud parties, but to change the character of once-quiet neighborhoods into business districts that house what are effectively boutique hotels.

Carlene Towne said a house near her was recently rented for a wedding.

“Harbour Island is a residential community, but the owners across the street have turned their home into a commercial operation,” Towne said.

Cities around Rhode Island face these sorts of dilemmas — perhaps nowhere more acutely than in Narragansett, which faces housing and population pressures from multiple directions. And in trying to deal with it, it is fraught with litigation and controversy.

Narragansett is one town away from the main campus of the University of Rhode Island. The city passed an ordinance prohibiting more than three students from living in a non-owner occupied housing unit, a case that ties into the court. Narragansett 2100 last month was granted a stay preventing that order from being enforced until the judge makes a final ruling.

When the 2020 U.S. Census came out, Narragansett had the largest decrease in population among cities and towns in Rhode Island, surely in part due to the absence of students at the start of COVID.

But some in town also worry more broadly about the character of the community – the beloved ice cream shop that can’t make enough money to justify staying open in the winter, or the schools that have fewer and fewer of children.

“The crux of the matter is that something needs to be done, as very short-term rentals have taken over every neighborhood in this city,” Councilwoman Deb Kopech said Tuesday night.

Councilwoman Ewa Dzwierzynski, who worked with Kopech and city officials to craft the proposal that was discussed Tuesday night, said in a pre-release interview that the housing — both the ordinance on the three students and short-term rentals — is the city’s biggest political problem as it heads into the November election. She and Kopech are on the ballot, among 10 candidates for five seats.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, Dzwierzynski said they modeled the towns and villages ordinance not just around the state but across the country. The reason people flock to Narragansett to buy short-term rental properties in places like California, Dzwierzynski said, is because places like California have already acted to restrict them. When buyers convert homes into investment properties, it means there are fewer options for people to buy to live in, and with increased demand, prices rise, say skeptics.

“We’re losing community and that drives up prices,” Dzwierzynski said. “It’s excluding families who can live here all year round.”

The ordinance as written does not have the votes to pass the five-member board at this time. The question is not going to go away and will probably come back on the next tip. In a seaside town that is almost inevitably described as “charming” or “quaint,” politics can be hotly contested.

Councilman Patrick Murray, who is running for the state Senate, raised concerns about overbreadth.

“I think it’s an encroachment on property rights,” he said.

Council Speaker Jesse Pugh, who is not running for re-election, agreed that short-term rentals were a problem that was helping to make life in Narragansett out of reach for many families, but suggested simply capping the number of short-term rentals. available in the city, while benefiting from acquired rights in the current ones.

Around the State – and this is not an exclusive list – Newport also has regulated short-term rentals, as did West and Portsmouth. The state of Rhode Island created a statewide registry that went live Monday. Already, owners of short-term rentals in Narragansett are registering their properties through the state for $50 a person, though it’s unclear how many there are in the town. An estimate from a software company said the number could be as high as 1,000.

One is next to Ande Frost, who said her life was threatened when she left at 2am to ask them to calm down, beer bottles were thrown at her and people parked across his driveway.

“It was an ugly experience,” Frost said.

Not everyone agreed: Town resident Steve DeSimone said he was toying with the idea of ​​renting out his house for a weekend during the summer. This would not be possible under this order.

“I think you’re wrong to take away my property rights because you’re unhappy with the way some people are managing their properties,” DeSimone said.


Brian Amaral can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.

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