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Make short-term rentals part of election debate

With the few primaries now out of the way, the political calendar next turns to elections for municipal positions in November. In addition to the usual discussions about taxes and spending, development, schools and open space, candidates should think about carving out positions on what is becoming a significant issue — how and whether to manage short-term rentals.

The issue is particularly sensitive in our coastal communities. Short-term rentals of homes, 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 bargain or simply prefer staying in a home to a hotel room or a bed and breakfast.

But the practice can disrupt a neighborhood, what with all the comings and goings. To hold down costs, renters can be tempted to squeeze an unreasonable number of people into a rented house than they would ever be allowed to do in traditional lodging.

Originally envisioned as a way to make a few extra bucks by hosting guests or renting the home, these new internet enterprises have changed the nature of property ownership in tourist communities and seaside resorts. Owners will buy homes they could otherwise not afford on the premise that they can raise enough funds to meet a mortgage via those short-term rentals. Or they may not plan to live in the home at all.

Conversely, some middle-class folks are finding the rentals are a way to raise the money they need to stay in homes that have increased in value, and so face higher taxes, but who have not seen an income increase to keep up.

There is an inherent inconsistency. Open a hotel and you are subject to all sorts of special regulations, inspections, and taxation. Market a home on Airbnb and Vrbo, essentially operating it as a hotel, and you’re subject to none of that.

When Michael Sarasin of Mystic earlier this month wrote a letter to the editor about the “litter on our properties, trespassing on lawns and docks, and excess noise” produced by short-term renters in his neighborhood, and called for “Groton’s elected officials to take notice,” it shot up to the most read item on theday.com website that day.

In Noank, they have been debating for a couple of years over what to do about the situation there with short-term rentals. After considering various new zoning regulations to manage short-term rentals, the Noank Zoning Commission recently settled instead on enforcing existing rules that do not allow them at all.

How exactly the rule will be enforced is unclear. It could prove interesting with estimates of as many as three dozen short-term-rental operators in the village.

If slates of candidates for councils and board of selectmen can come up with policy positions on the matter it would allow voters to decide who they think has the best approach to this perplexing problem. An outright ban is a step too far, and would likely face legal challenges, but some reasonable degree of regulation appears in order.

What say you, local candidates?

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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