Short-term rentals bill sparks fundamental debate in NH communities – New Hampshire Bulletin
Opponents of short-term rentals came armed with anecdotes.
Short-lived homes and apartments — such as properties rented through Airbnb and Vrbo — brought busloads of rowdy Harvard students to downtown Sunapee and sparked verbal altercations over the use of the beach on the city, some council members said during a hearing on Thursday. They clogged some Lake District roads with cars, a participant said, and were the reason Milford residents were woken up on a Monday morning by fireworks at 4 a.m., added another.
Tensions over rental properties in tourist areas of New Hampshire are nothing new, and a bill proposed this year continues the debate. Senate Bill 249 would prevent New Hampshire cities from banning short-term rentals, allowing cities to register and regulate them instead.
The topic remained a lightning rod Thursday, with local residents, mayors and real estate organizations taking opposing positions throughout an hour-long hearing before the House County and Municipal Affairs Committee.
But some naysayers are raising another concern this year: the potential effects on affordable housing. Housing advocates in the Seacoast region are warning that an increase in short-term rentals could take the state’s critical housing stock out of circulation, driving up rents and surrounding home prices.
Proponents of the bill say concerns about affordable housing are overblown and misplaced. Renting houses or apartments to guests already falls under legal ‘residential use’ and is a cornerstone of a landlord’s property rights, they argue. SB 249 simply codifies that reality into law, proponents say.
And while lawmakers are reviewing the legislation, state courts are going their own way. A case to decide whether states can ban short-term rentals is heading to the state Supreme Court.
“A bundle of rights”
Proposed by Sen. Harold French, a Franklin Republican, SB 249 prohibits cities from prohibiting “the use of a building or structure as a vacation rental or short-term rental,” which the proposed bill law defines as “any single-family or two-family house”. building or structure, however owned or occupied and whether the building or structure is conforming or non-conforming, or offered in whole or in part for rental or transitional use”.
The bill would not prevent cities from passing “municipal parking, noise, safety, health, sanitation or other related ordinances,” and it would not include hotels in its definition of short-term rentals. This would allow cities to require regulations, such as property inspections to determine if homes meet minimum housing standards. And it would revoke short-term rental registration after two or more health, safety, sanitation, noise, or parking violations.
Housing industry groups have welcomed the bill, calling it an affirmation of a fundamental landlord right.
“When you buy a property, you get a bundle of rights,” said Bob Quinn, CEO of the New Hampshire Association of Realtors. “One of those sticks you get is the ability to rent out your property. If any of these are removed, the value of this property is decreased.
“There is an opportunity here to clarify this once and for all,” he added.
But a number of mayors oppose it, including Mayor Deaglan McEachern of Portsmouth, Jim Bouley of Concord, Joyce Craig of Manchester and Jim Donchess of Nashua.
In an interview, McEachern said he was not opposed to the concept of short-term rentals. But he argued that cities and towns need to have a way to filter who owns them. Owner-occupied properties — homes whose owners live there the majority of the year and rent them out at other times — are acceptable, McEachern argued. Properties purchased and managed by out-of-state individuals or businesses, he said, are less desirable.
McEachern said an increase in short-term housing could exclude residents from the city — already one of the most expensive places to live in the state. And he said a drop in the number of residents could reduce any increase the city might see in its share of the meals and rooms tax if short-term rentals increase – fewer residents would mean a smaller part of the tax.
“I fear this bill will throw gas on the affordable housing crisis — that it will tear communities apart,” McEachern said. Not out of the bill’s ill intent, he said, but simply out of a lack of understanding of the impacts on communities “when we no longer have long-term residents.”
Other housing advocates have worried about the impact on the state’s tight housing market, in which high prices are already tracking areas of high demand, such as the Lake District and the Coastline.
“If our supply was at a healthy level, if people could find housing, then of course having short-term rentals could make sense,” said Nick Taylor, executive director of the Workforce Housing Coalition of the Greater Seacoast. . “But in a situation where we’re already in such a hurry, taking a tool away from communities trying to tackle the housing crisis with smart local ordinances doesn’t make sense.”
Other skeptics of the bill focused on what they said were immediate community concerns: noise and nuisance levels.
Thais St. Clair, president of the Lakes Region Bed and Breakfast Association and owner of Sutton House Bed and Breakfast in Center Harbor, said she has started listing her property on Airbnb and Vrbo. “If you can’t beat them, join them,” she said. But St. Clair said she opposes the bill, which she says could open the doors to more short-term rental listings that aren’t as regulated as traditional bed and breakfasts.
Dining licenses for bed and breakfasts that serve breakfast may not apply to short-term rentals, and regulations for smoke and carbon monoxide alarms may not apply either, St. .Clear. And new rentals could bring unfair competition, she added.
“Personally, I’m very supportive of making every type of accommodation available to visitors and residents of New Hampshire,” St. Clair said. “But there has to be a balance right now. The B&B community is suffering from vacation rental properties popping up everywhere.
Others raised specific concerns about an excess of visitors to their cities.
But supporters say the concerns are misplaced. The bill expressly authorizes cities to require short-term rentals to register, pay registration fees and submit to site inspections, powers that cities do not currently have for short-term rentals. term, they noted. And they said nuisance ordinances and other criminal laws would still apply if the bill passes.
“I know people are looking for straws to say ‘we need to ban them,'” said Paul Mayer, chairman of the White Mountain Board of Realtors and board member of the Mount Washington Association for Responsible Vacation Rentals. “‘They’re loud and they’re loud and they park in the streets.’ And our association is all for it. Regulate them. Do what you would do with any other house on the street that wasn’t working properly, causing trouble, having fireworks, having parties late at night.
“The only thing SB 249 says is…you can’t ban them,” Mayer continued. “You can regulate them, but you can’t ban them.”
In the courts
Meanwhile, the issue is making its way through the state court system. The Carroll County Superior Court ruled against the city of Conway in January, rejecting city officials’ attempt to stop a resident from operating a short-term rental.
Conway had argued that his “permissive ordinances” are designed to allow properties to be used only in the manner directly set forth in those ordinances. Because the ordinances explicitly allowed only owner-occupied short-term rentals, a short-term rental that was not owner-occupied could be prohibited, the city argued. But Carroll County Superior Court Judge Amy Ignatius on the owner’s sideScott Kudrick, arguing that city ordinances were too out of date to adequately consider short-term rentals through sites like Airbnb, and that their use constituted residential use of a property.
The city has since appealed the case to the state Supreme Court; for now, at least, short-term rentals in Conway are allowed.
In his ruling, Ignatius called on the state legislature to draft legislation to provide clarity. On Thursday, SB 249 advocates cited that call to build support.
“I think one important thing for the legislature to look at is that if you don’t deal with short-term rentals with a bill like SB 249, which gives cities the power to regulate them, you leave it up to to a dozen. superior court judges to make decisions for themselves,” Mayer said.
For Taylor, however, the Superior Court’s decision should not mean an automatic victory for the bill. The legislature could pass legislation allowing some short-term rentals and prohibiting others, he said.
“Just because the courts have asked the Legislature to weigh in on a policy doesn’t mean the policy should prohibit communities from prohibiting short-term rentals,” Taylor said. “You could easily have it in the opposite direction.”