Mystic rental: 15 people, $1,015 a night, in a residential neighborhood
You didn’t have to go far in eastern Connecticut this summer to tune in to the controversies swirling around short term rentals, and Mystic has become what seems like ground zero for the debate.
Both Groton and Stonington, the towns that encompass the village of Mystic, are considering new regulations for short-term rentals, which, anecdotally anyway, seem to be exploding in number.
I’ve heard from lots of Mystic residents alarmed at the increasing number of houses around them that are no longer occupied by owners but rather exclusively used for short-term rentals, essentially mini-hotels.
Stonington, before enacting rules, has been holding hearings, soliciting and assessing public opinion.
In Groton, the Town Council is poised to enact an ordinance, and public comments at a one council meeting ranged from worries a new law will go too far to not nearly far enough in regulating the rentals.
There is also a lot of angst in Groton that the council, generally inclined to support businesses, is prepared to usurp the zoning commission’s authority in regulating the rentals.
I did find, from the many short-term rental properties people told me about in Mystic, one that seems to be a good example of the kind of thing so many people are complaining about.
I won’t embarrass the owners by singling them out, since there are so many in town.
This house, which you might even call a 19th-century mansion for its size and grandeur, is a very nice, well-tended property on the Stonington side of Mystic, in a residential neighborhood but close to the downtown commercial district.
It is, except for the lack of a sign out front, very much like a small boutique hotel, except that you rent the whole thing, all seven bedrooms, for an average of $1,015, instead of single rooms.
An outside terrace appears set up for large groups, with lots of lounge seating and five umbrella tables. The property has a Facebook page on which guests leaving reviews have reported hosting parties related to family events like weddings.
Given that the calendar on the vacation web site that lists the house shows it is available almost any time, except in deep winter months, it seems very much a commercial property rather than a single-family residence where someone lives.
To those who complain that the short-term rentals are creating businesses in residential neighborhoods, I would say there is a lot of truth in that.
Renting out an entire seven-bedroom house by the night, promoting it on Facebook, seems very much a commercial enterprise, very different than renting a room or small apartment within your home.
I’m quite sure it is considered a business by the IRS, if not by town zoning officials.
I did speak with the owners of the rental mansion in Mystic, who told me they have owned the property almost ten years and worked hard to restore it. Indeed, it is rich in Stonington history and kept up very well.
In fact, I would say it is a credit to the neighborhood in appearance, an antique house well curated, with freshly painted clapboard, wooden shutters and gracious landscaping.
The owners told me they have a good relationship with the neighbors and have provided contact information so that they can be reached quickly in the event of any problems with tenants.
They say 15 is the maximum number of tenants, although the house often rents with fewer people than that.
They noted that they comply with all rules and regulations. But of course that is the issue for so many in town. There are no rules regarding short-term rentals.
While I am sympathetic to anyone who lives in a residential neighborhood in Mystic that is increasingly overwhelmed by big properties used exclusively for short-term rental, I realize that there are many facets to this prickly issue.
There are a lot of communities in Stonington and Groton, for instance, where generations of families have been renting out their summer houses for some summer weeks, to pay the bills. I would still consider those properties, used mostly by the families that own them, better classified as residential than commercial.
Finding the right balance between rentals made available in a residential property and those that become nothing but a business will be difficult.
But it’s game on in Stonington and Groton for the hard work ahead of regulating short term rentals.
This is the opinion of David Collins