New London is latest to tackle concerns over short-term rentals

New London — A group of frustrated homeowners in the city’s south end are calling for regulations to curtail the use of their neighbors’ homes as short-term rentals.

The use of homes as rentals on Airbnb, VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owners) and other online vacation home sites is commonplace along the Connecticut shoreline and across the country, but some residents in New London think the practice has gone too far.

A group turned out at a recent City Council meeting to voice concern over large crowds, unruly behavior, high turnover rates and parking issues associated with some of the rental homes. Not all were against short-term rentals — some said it helped supplement their income to pay property taxes — but many bemoaned the fact some homes have been converted into rental properties.

“It’s like a honky-tonk,” Park Street resident Jean Perry said. “I didn’t move down there to live next to a hotel. It’s a Holiday Inn every other house. It’s not what I had expected. I just think it needs to be regulated.”

“We need regulations and enforcement to protect neighborhoods from absentee landlords, especially on weekends,” Parkway South resident Bev Steinman said.

Short-term rentals are not regulated in the city, as opposed to the strict regulations applied to conventional bed and breakfasts. And other than a 15 percent room occupancy tax, the state has no regulations for short-term rentals. There were 6,000 homes rented through Airbnb alone between Memorial Day and Labor Day in Connecticut in 2019, hosting 93,300 guest stays — 20,400 in New London County, the Hartford Business Journal reports.

Some of the concerns voiced by New London residents surround the buying up of area homes by limited liability companies, such as G&C Rentals LLC and G&S Rentals LLC. City records show G&C Rentals over the last several years has purchased 22 Beechwood Lane, 105 Stuart Ave., 1137 Ocean Ave. and 95 Stuart Ave.

G&S Rentals, which purchased 15 Bentley Ave. in June, lists the same Waterford address as George Vafidis, the president of Ocean Pizza and owner of G&C Rentals LLC. The owner of 1129 Ocean Ave. is listed as SV Rentals LLC, whose principal is Sotirios Vafidis.

George and Sotirios Vafidis could not be reached to comment.

Kathy and Ralph Matyas, who live in one home on Highland Avenue and rent out another, said the noise of the parties has gotten unbearable at times. They said the rental homes amount to commercial businesses operating in the middle of residential neighborhoods.

“I told (Vafidis) I have no problem with him renting to families, but 15, 20, 25 people renting just to party?” Kathy Matyas said.

“I was going to retire down there. I’m not sure anymore," Ralph Matyas said.

Zoning officials have said that many of the complaints surrounding noise and parking issues are police matters and not necessarily zoning issues.

Mayor Michael Passero said the regulations are a complicated legal issue and any regulations must balance property rights of homeowners with quality of life of neighbors. Passero said meetings among the city attorney, zoning, parking and other city officials are ongoing. The ability to enforce any new regulations is one of the major hurdles the city faces, Passero said.

The first step toward some type of regulations was pitched to the City Council in October, when it was asked to vote on a new ordinance that prohibits vehicle, motor homes or trailers from parking on lawns. While parking on the front lawns is prohibited by zoning regulations, zoning officials do not enforce regulations on weekends. The ordinance would have allowed for police enforcement.

The council did not vote on the ordinance. It was instead moved the Public Safety and Public Works committees to be taken up by the new council.

Taking up the issue of short-term rentals as part of an ordinance is not a new idea. New London’s Planning and Zoning Commission in 2016 discussed regulations of such rentals.

In a letter to former City Council President Erica Richardson in 2016, Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Barry Levine said the commission collectively agreed that zoning for short-term rentals is problematic and a city ordinance would have “a greater impact to better protect the public, and allow swifter enforcement.”

The ideas suggested at the time were for a licensing mechanism to ensure health and safety inspections were performed and a limit on the number of licenses issued.

“I do not think the legal terrain has changed since I wrote that message,” Levine said in a recent interview.

Levine said that while some cities are tackling the issue with different types of enforcement, it may come down to cost for New London. “Large cities are making a go at this ... but they have legions of building inspectors. New London does not,” he said.

The Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments in September released a recommendation similar to what New London already has considered. The study concluded “regulation of (short-term rentals) through a municipal ordinance seems to present the greatest number of benefits with the fewest drawbacks. It would allow for more effective enforcement, and also eliminates any issues of grandfathering that may arise from zoning regulations.”

Ledyard is the most recent community to consider an ordinance that places restrictions on short-term rentals. Elizabeth Burdick, the director of land use and planning for that town, said a proposed ordinance was crafted after a year of work to address complaints of loud parties, trespassing and parking issues associated with short-term rentals.

Burdick said the ordinance takes into consideration rights of homeowners to rent while mitigating disruptions to neighbors. The proposed ordinance, among other things, would call for a permitting process for short-term rentals and bar things like weddings, bachelor parties and concerts. It also would limit the number of people to two per bedroom and vehicles to one per bedroom.

Felix Reyes, the director of the New London Office of Development and Planning, said he expects the issue to be one of the priorities of the city Planning Department in 2020.

g.smith@theday.com 

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