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    Local Columns
    Tuesday, April 23, 2024

    OPINION: Vote no Monday on Stonington’s deeply flawed short-term rental law

    The best reason for Stonington voters to reject the proposed short-term rentals ordinance, which goes to a special referendum Monday, is that it doesn’t address the thorny parts of the issue and kicks the can down the road.

    Indeed, the ordinance, in creating a registry of short-term rentals, would seem to legitimize rather than properly regulate the growing commercialization of tourism-related rentals in Stonington’s residential neighborhoods.

    Don’t be fooled by the argument that this is a first step in the process of regulating short-term rentals. I know some real estate professionals, who profit from the rental commercialization of neighborhoods, like to promote this myth.

    The reality is that, if this ordinance passes, town leaders will almost certainly claim that this is the regulation that so many town residents have demanded, the final solution.

    It’s not.

    And worse, the proposed ordinance would create a confused new bureaucratic system that it is going to be costly, unwieldy and unfair.

    This new law is not going to please the people who want to stop the creation of hotels in their residential neighborhoods. And it is certainly not going to please any operators of short-term rentals, who could almost certainly become the targets of a weaponized bureaucracy fueled by neighbor complaints.

    I am not sure what lawyer crafted this crazy law, but it is a doozy.

    I know it’s a burden for hard-working residents to come out and vote it down ― voting will take place only from noon to 8 p.m. at two polls, the Stonington Borough Fire Station and the former Pawcatuck Middle School ― but, really, this monster, being foisted on the town by the Board of Selectmen, ought to be nipped in the bud.

    Consider that elected leaders of Stonington are asking voters to create a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week hotline to field complaints about short-term rentals.

    I would like to see that hotline become the first selectman’s cell phone.

    But it won’t be. It will have to be created and staffed with people who will presumably be paid with revenues from the undisclosed fee that will be charged for registering a rental.

    Then the new law set ups a violation system and a schedule of fines, which tops off with a revocation of the license to rent.

    Of course when you have a system set up to field complaints and levy fines or even revoke a business license, you have to have a new system to adjudicate all that new punishment.

    In fact, the whole system seems to invite not just complaints for the new adjudication system but full-scale civil lawsuits. Isn’t the investor who is making many thousands of dollars a week renting parts of a big house in Mystic going to go to Superior Court when the town shuts him down because he didn’t answer his phone within an hour of being called?

    Yes, I know it’s bonkers crazy, but the law gives the operators of short-term rentals just one hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to respond to any complaint.

    No more going to the movies for those folks. Even lingering in a long shower could put you out of business, just because you took off the one-hour response leash.

    Who knows the reason for that wildly unreasonable demand. It’s not like police can’t respond immediately and take action at any rental property where partying and noise have gotten out of control.

    I expect neighbors of unpopular rentals will be calling that 24-hour hotline every time a porch light is left on. It will be their only weapon to fight the commercialization of their neighborhood.

    Reject this ludicrous law and make the town, maybe when it gets some new leadership, address the short-term rental problem with real solutions.

    Shut down for good the investor-owned properties that are being run year ‘round, big businesses, in residential neighborhoods, where the investor rental operators don’t ever reside and have no vested neighborly interests, no skin in the game of making it a real community where people live.

    This is the opinion of David Collins

    d.collins@theday.com

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