More information needed to determine if rowdy renters need to be regulated in East Lyme
East Lyme ― The purveyors of short-term rentals in Niantic say their cottages are a hallmark of the beachfront village while neighbors argue the influx of sometimes rowdy guests booked online is a threat to the quiet enjoyment of their homes.
But after a preliminary public hearing Monday on possibly regulating the rentals, the town’s Short Term Rental Committee came away with no apparent appetite for the all-out ban some landlords had feared along with uncertainty about how big the problem really is.
Complaints of too much noise, too many cars and a lot of trash at some short-term rentals prompted selectmen in August to ask the committee to determine whether there’s a need to regulate rentals and, if so, how to do it.
Short-term rentals advertised on websites like Airbnb and VRBO are not currently governed by the state or at the town level, where zoning official Bill Mulholland has taken the position that anything not explicitly allowed in zoning regulations is prohibited.
But Town Attorney Mark Zamarka said a recent state Appellate Court decision found that municipalities allowing single-family homes to be rented out for longer stays must allow short stays as well. He said an appeal has been taken up by the state Supreme Court with a decision expected in early 2024.
Zamarka’s advice for now? “You cannot ban short-term rentals.”
Committee co-chairwoman and Selectman Anne Santoro told fellow members she still hasn’t figured out if there’s a problem that rises to the level of government regulation. That’s going to take more information, she said.
Residents air complaints
Jim Capodiece, owner of 45 Shore Road, wrote to the committee with complaints of “late night disturbances, parties involving numerous people, and trash concerns” in a house next door that have gone unheeded by the owners. He called for regulation as the only way to ensure health, safety and quiet in the residential neighborhood.
Capodiece said he’s been meeting with First Selectman Kevin Seery for over a year and a half about suggestions including registration of all short-term rentals, inspections, fees and a seven-day minimum rental period.
John Schweizer of 50 Shore Road told the committee “things have really fallen apart in the neighborhood” over the past few years. He cited two-night guests partying into the morning hours and parking on the seawall.
“We call the police all the time,” he said.
But Nick Romanetz, who said he is associated with 44 Shore Road, provided police reports that show only one disturbance call from the six Airbnb listings in the area over the past three years. It was a 2 a.m. complaint from Schweizer about noise in 2021.
Romanetz said the committee was formed to address specific problems like those brought to the first selectman by Capodiece, yet “there is no such evidence of problems.”
Police Chief Mike Finkelstein said there was another complaint about a loud party at 44 Shore Road in June 2022.
The chief said short-term rentals “do not appear to be a large driver of calls to the police,” with the complaints that do come in revolving around noise or parking.
But Finkelstein said he doesn’t necessarily know which properties are short-term rentals and not all complaints in a given neighborhood are address-specific, which means it can be unclear if they stem from an short-term rental.
Police can investigate noise complaints and issue fines as well as write parking tickets.
The need to collect comprehensive data was expressed by Kimberley Barrett McCord, of Granby, who owns an 1850 cottage in Crescent Beach that’s been in her family for several generations.
She said it is getting more difficult to afford a second home, a situation that required her family to “get creative” if they were going to save it. She said some family members bought out others. The remaining owners began renting the cottage out on “a very limited basis” in 2020.
She said rental income helps pay for insurance, property taxes and upgrades on the cottage. She said solutions should not be based on precedents set in places like New York City that don’t match Niantic’s demographics or geography.
She said guests who come in for short, affordable visits bring “business, diversity and, most importantly, joy.”
Joe Malerba of Old Lyme, who owns the Niantic Inn and an Airbnb property on Lake Pattagansett, said it would be reasonable to charge short-term rental operators a license fee that could go toward paying an enforcement official to make sure the rentals comply with any new guidelines.
Information provided to the committee by Zamarka shows the town of Lyme’s zoning regulations allow stays shorter than 30 days as long as the host lives on-site. Preston’s regulations authorize permits for rentals with up to six bedrooms if there’s enough parking space on site and owners pay a $200 fee. Ledyard updated its ordinances to designate an enforcement officer to regulate rentals of less than 21 days where there is a local property representative is available at all times.
Some residents, including Pine Grove Beach Association Board of Directors member Debbie Jett-Harris, had strong objections to short-term rentals in town. She called for a moratorium on the practice while the Supreme Court appeal is pending and a referendum on any proposal so voters have the opportunity to cast their ballots.
Emily Gianquinto of Hartford, said she owns 36 Central Ave. with a small group of friends who offset expenses with short-term paying guests. She said she supports a licensing fee, preferably on a sliding scale, but cautioned the town against overreach.
She was critical of the idea of preserving the town’s “character” as mentioned by a committee member in a previous committee meeting. During that same meeting, a resident said he didn’t want to see East Lyme’s beach area become like Hartford Avenue in Old Lyme, where efforts to restrict access to a public beach with adjacent bars have been ongoing more than 50 years.
“To me, that is coded language for keeping certain people out. I think in considering these regulations, the committee should be careful about that perception, particularly with the history of access to the beaches,” Gianquinto said.
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