LACONIA — City Council members want to take a closer look at what regulations are needed for the many short-term Airbnb-type rentals that have been popping up around town.
Present zoning ordinances ban short-term rentals in most residential areas, but the council has decided not to enforce those ordinances unless someone complains.
If there is enough public demand, the ordinances can be changed, Mayor Ed Engler said at Monday’s council meeting.
“It was written by men and women and it can be changed by men and women,” he said.
Engler stressed that the ordinances were adopted years ago, before there were online rental marketing companies like Airbnb.
He also said that, when the Zoning Board of Adjustment considers appeals from people who want to run a short-term rental in a residential area, the panel has very little latitude under state law to grant that request.
The board has rejected a few such appeals, leading to comments on social media and letters to the editor. Some say the board and the city have been overly restrictive of a business that brings paying visitors to the area. Others say some short-term rentals are disruptive in residential neighborhoods and lead to problems with noise and parking.
City Manager Scott Myers said Tuesday that a City Council committee will look into the short-term rental issue in a process that could ultimately lead to a public hearing on whether zoning ordinances should be changed.
Councilor Bob Hamel said it would be good at minimum to have a list of all short-term rentals in the city, along with the contact people to call if a problem were to arise.
He said other possibilities for local regulation could include inspection by the Fire Department and Code Enforcement, or the imposition of fines if police have to be called out a certain number of times.
City officials are closely following state legislation that would enable such a regulatory scheme.
The state Senate Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee considered Senate Bill 69 yesterday. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, would allow municipalities to conduct fire-safety and health investigations of short-term rentals. The legislation also would allow the municipality to charge a fee for inspections.
In an email to the committee, Myers said short-term rentals have become a significant issue in Laconia.
“We are running into many unintended and unplanned-for consequences in having these rentals occur in our community, mostly in single-family residential neighborhoods, without regulation,” he said.
Currently, the state doesn’t regulate short-term rentals, other than to ensure they pay the rooms-and-meals tax.
“I would like to add the following thoughts as items that would strengthen the bill without being overly burdensome,” Myers said in the email.
“Would there be the ability to assess a fine against a property who failed to register/seek a license but still advertised short term rentals?
“Add the requirement that the property owner provide a local contact person to be available to respond to issues as they may arise if the property owner is not local themselves. These could include situations of excessive noise, trash, parking and more.
“Is there any right to assess a fine for a certain threshold of police calls to the same property?”
“If a property is a ‘habitual offender,’ is there a provision to refuse them the right to operate short-term rentals?”