Shelburne is wrestling with, or at least talking about whether to wrestle with, an issue towns in Vermont and beyond have tackled – short-term rentals.
At the Tuesday, Feb. 11 meeting, Selectboard Vice Chair Jaime Heins said he requested the discussion about short-term rentals, popularized by the company Airbnb, to be added to the agenda because he has gotten some calls about it.
Board members mentioned Stowe and Burlington as other Vermont towns that have developed regulations concerning short-term rentals.
Heins said if the selectboard wants to move in this direction they could direct the planning commission to develop a proposal concerning short-term rentals.
Licensing and registration is a solution they could use if they do decide that want to regulate short-term rentals, Heins said, but he would defer to the planning commission to decide how best to do this.
“I’m all ears as far as what kind of approach they want to take,” he said.
“Are you considering that we don’t even have the manpower to enforce our zoning bylaws?” Colleen Parker asked. “It makes it hard to spend the time to come up with legislation and other things that we’re not going to be able to enforce. I believe in setting down rules that are enforceable.”
Heins said, “I think having an ordinance itself would have some deterrent impact.” He said that have regulations “would at least curb some of the behavior that’s happening out there.”
He said that he thinks the trend of bad behavior from short-term rentals or Airbnbs is only going to get worse. “We’re going to see more and more of it in the town.”
The selectboard will be getting a lot of phone calls about how quality of life is being compromised, Heins said.
The selectboard talked about ways that they might get feedback from the community about short-term rentals.
“My sense is that the Airbnb is an invitation to that behavior,” said Chair Jerry Storey.
If the planning commission is willing to work on the issue, the selectboard could “choose a path and concern ourselves with how we’re going to enforce it.”
Board member Mary Kehoe said that developing and enforcing Airbnb regulations would be easier than some other regulations, such as regulations against putting an ad on a house.
Because the regulations would stem from neighbors feeling impacted, if an ordinance were to say that short-term rentals must be owner occupied then neighbors could help identify violations, said Kehoe: “If it appears to a neighbor that their neighbor hasn’t been there in six months because they’re on sabbatical and there’s people who are transients coming, we’re going to get that complaint.”
“We should all remember that Airbnb was created because the person who created it couldn’t pay his rent,” Kehoe continued. “He went and got an air mattress and that’s how it got to be Airbnb. The whole purpose is the couch-surfing idea, not a mini-hotel in the middle of a residential neighborhood.”
Parker said, “Isn’t it amazing how it’s evolved, so now as a family you can rent a home someplace in a safe neighborhood, or a woman whose husband has passed away and she lives in her house by herself. She can rent to people and she can screen them and help pay her mortgage and her taxes, so she can stay.”
Heins advocated for finding a balance of regulations so that homeowners can earn some extra income but limit the length of rentals “to some reasonable amount of time, so it’s not a summer party house.”
Board member Michael Ashooh said he’d like to know that there is a problem and hear what people are thinking about short-term rentals: “I’m worried that we have a solution in search of a problem.”