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Norwich proposes regulating short-term rentals

Norwich — After months of study, city planners on Monday presented a draft ordinance to regulate the estimated 71 short-term rental properties already operating in the city without oversight.

Director of Planning Deanna Rhodes presented the highlights of the eight-page draft to the City Council during an informational session. Rhodes said she hopes for feedback and plans to schedule a public forum before the council holds a formal public hearing on the ordinance.

Rhodes hopes to have the ordinance approved so the city can start processing short-term license applications Nov. 15. She suggested the city hire a professional management firm to oversee the licensing and enforcement, noting that many companies offer the service with the growing popularity of short-term rentals, such as Airbnb or Vacation Rentals by Owner, VRBO.

Norwich's draft ordinance would allow short-term rentals in areas within a quarter mile of Southeast Area Transit bus lines to encourage the use of public transportation. The ordinance would limit guests to one vehicle per rented room and would limit occupancy to two people of the same party per room.

Parking would not be allowed on lawns, and owners could not convert front lawns into parking lots.

Rhodes told the City Council many of the complaints the city receives are for noise, large parties, parking and excessive traffic on residential streets.

The ordinance would prohibit large parties, weddings, bachelor parties, concerts, commercial events or corporate functions.

"That's a big one," Rhodes said.

The draft ordinance puts an overall limit of 100 short-term rental units in the city, with no more than five units per house. A vacant house — where the owner does not live — must be rented as one unit to one group of guests, not operate as a “de-facto hotel,” Rhodes said.

She added that the five-unit limit would ensure the city still has ample long-term rental units for residents.

No rooms could be rented in basements, third floors or attics for safety. The ordinance also offers incentives for owner-occupied, short-term rentals by allowing larger occupancies.

If an owner does not live at the house, the city would require the person to appoint a local property manager, who would be responsible for handling complaints or emergencies. A condominium owner would need proof that the condominium association has approved the application.

The draft states the owner must be current on property taxes for the property to rent it and have no outstanding property violations.

During Monday's presentation, aldermen questioned whether owners on property tax payment plans would be eligible and whether outstanding bills to Norwich Public Utilities would be included. Rhodes said those provisions could be worked into the draft.

License fees have not been set yet. The license would have to be renewed each year in November for the period starting the following January. Late fees would apply for overdue renewals, and the owner would lose the license if it were not renewed by Feb. 15. Violations of the restrictions would carry a fine of $250 pr violation.

Rhodes said the Planning and Neighborhood Services Department has worked on the proposed ordinance for 18 months and looked at about 30 ordinances from different cities and small towns.

c.bessette@theday.com

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