LACONIA — There are more than 200 short-term Airbnb-type rental properties in the city, and officials are keeping a close eye on the fast-growing industry to see if local regulation will be needed.
Planning Director Dean Trefethen said there is nothing in city zoning rules that applies to this type of rental, which involves a residence or a portion of a residence. A couple of recent complaints have focused attention on the issue.
A constituent complained to Laconia City Councilor Bruce Cheney about a property on old North Main Street, along Opechee Bay.
“The complaints were about trash, noise and some issues of trespass,” Cheney said. “The number of people staying in the house was as many as 20 and they were spilling over onto a neighbor’s property when using the lake.”
Other potential issues with short-term rentals could concern parking or traffic.
Sometimes, when guests put their trash cans out at the end of their stay, the garbage can stay at the curb for days until pickup day comes around.
Trefethen, the planning director, said if more complaints come in, the city might look at the possibility of local regulation.
“We would want safety for the people renting and peace of mind for the neighbors surrounding the place that is being rented out,” he said.
For example, the city could levy an administrative fee that would cover an inspection to make sure there were smoke detectors and proper egress in case of an emergency.
City Manager Scott Myers said the city could also look at the number of bedrooms in a house compared to its advertised occupancy capacity.
“It could be advertised as a 20-person getaway, when reasonably it should be sleeping six or eight people,” he said. “If we did do something in terms of regulation, it would be good to have the contact name of a local person responsible for the property, if there were noise, trash or other issues going on in the neighborhood.”
The city could also use zoning rules to specify where Airbnb rentals could operate.
There are no state regulations for the Airbnb industry, other than an agreement on tax remittance.
Myers stressed that the city is in no hurry to pass local regulations unless they become necessary.
“I don’t think we want to regulate or over-regulate if there are different ways to handle it,” he said. “It will depend on any feedback we get over a period of time.
“Our first choice is to have a conversation with owners and abutters if there is a problem. If it’s working fairly well, I don't want to go and recommend that we chase a problem that may not exist, but I also want to be empathetic to somebody who may be living in close proximity to a property with challenges.”
He said the situation will be monitored closely.
“A lot of communities hadn’t looked at this when zoning regulations were put in place,” Myers said. “It is relatively new. When a new type of business comes into play, concerns or questions come up on how it is to be regulated, just like Uber and Lyft.”
Liz DeBold Fusco, a spokeswoman for Airbnb, said the company recognizes the need for common-sense regulations.
“That's why we have worked with more than 400 municipalities to craft policy that fits both the needs of local government as well as those of our local hosts,” she said. “As a result, we have been able to address transparency and public safety concerns, empower hosts to continue using their homes to make ends meet and help guests to visit new places all over the world."
She also said the company screens all hosts and guests, including background checks for felony convictions, sex offender registrations and significant misdemeanors.
She said the company runs home safety workshops and provides free smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. It also provides insurance for Airbnb hosts for up to $1 million.