LACONIA — A local system for regulating short-term rentals like Airbnb, including a ban for many properties, likely would be disrupted if state legislation sponsored by a local senator wins passage.
Last month, then-Mayor Ed Engler broke a 3-3 tie to give final passage to an ordinance allowing those Laconia residents living in The Weirs to offer their property for short-term rental, but prohibiting it elsewhere in the city unless the owner lives on the premises for at least 150 days per year.
State Sen. Harold French, R-Franklin, is a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 458, which also says local government may require registration of short-term rentals. It also has provisions covering fire safety and nuisance complaints.
French said he has spoken to many people who object to restrictions on their ability to offer such rentals, but has not spoken to city officials about the regulation.
“I have not, but it’s a good point and maybe I’ll give them a call,” he said.
State legislation is needed so that New Hampshire doesn’t end up with a patchwork quilt of local regulations on the issue, he said.
French, a real estate broker and an auctioneer, said property rights should be protected.
“I can loan my house out to anyone,” he said. “There is nothing prohibiting me from doing that. This is only allowing our residents to make money and help them pay their taxes.”
State Rep. Charlie St. Clair, D-Laconia, sees it differently.
“The state should not dictate to local towns and municipalities on local control matters, including regulation of short-term rentals,” he said. “It should be up to the local cities and towns.
“It may be easy for state legislators to make up rules for areas or neighborhoods that they have no knowledge of and don't live in, but I don't think it's right to do that.”
Most local short-term lodging establishments operate without a problem, including some that have been rented among friends for decades. The city embarked on the regulatory scheme after complaints were made over a couple of problematic short-term rental homes.
Engler has said he favored an owner-occupancy requirement as a way to try to keep residential areas intact for families and new residents, rather than simply providing properties for out-of-town investors to offer for rental.
Longstanding zoning ordinances prohibited short-term rentals in most of the city, but the prohibition was generally not enforced. A year ago, the City Council agreed to require enforcement if neighbors complained.
Planning Director Dean Trefethen said that if the legislation passed, Laconia might need to amend its short-term rental ordinance.
“This proposed law may never be passed by the legislature or could be significantly amended before final passage,” he said. “Until the legislature completes action on this proposed bill, our ordinance is in effect and lawful.”