LACONIA — The City Council on Monday could pass an ordinance restricting the operation of short-term rental lodging facilities in the city.
The council has scheduled a public hearing on a proposed amendment to the city’s zoning ordinance to add language regulating short-term rentals which cater mostly to tourists.
The council gave preliminary approval to the regulations when it passed the measure on its first reading at its Nov. 25 meeting. That vote set the stage for this coming Monday’s public hearing, after which the council is scheduled to vote on the measure a second time. If the proposal passes again, it will then become law.
Those backing the regulations say they are necessary in order to assure the orderly operation of such facilities, and to prevent proxy hotels from operating unchecked in residential neighborhoods. Critics say the proposed regulations are too restrictive.
Under the regulations being proposed, short-term rentals would be allowed only in owner-occupied residences in most of the city. Places in The Weirs would be exempt from that restriction, however.
At Monday’s meeting, the council will vote on the proposal as amended at the November meeting. At that meeting, the Council agreed to change the definition of short-term rental to those lasting between one and 14 consecutive nights. The other requires short-term rental properties to be registered with the city every two years.
Mayor Ed Engler, who supports the change in regulations, says short-term rentals in Laconia are a new phenomenon, being pushed by out-of-state investors who are eager to cash in on the rapid growth of Airbnb and similar rental platforms.
“Until this past winter, I don’t think anyone knew this was going on,” Engler said.
He believes that, if left unchecked, short-term rentals will damage the character of the city’s residential neighborhoods, as well as further reduce the already-meager stock of affordable apartments in the city.
“I don’t want people to turn a house on Holman Street into a motel for [their] personal benefit,” Engler said.
The mayor noted that Boston has passed an ordinance that bans short-term rentals by owners who don’t live in the properties they rent out, and requires short-term rental hosts to register with the city every year.
City Councilor David Bownes said he believes supporters of the regulations are over-reacting, and that it is a mistake for the city to be swayed by how major cities are cracking down on short-term rentals.
“This is not New Orleans. This is not Boston,” said Bownes, who was one of the two councilors who voted against the regulations in November.
Bownes believes the regulations as presently drawn could result in short-term rental hosts operating in secret.
“I don’t want to see people going underground. I want people to register so [the city] can keep track of them,” he said.
At November’s meeting City Councilor Henry Lipman said the proposed regulations threaten the financial viability of the Winnipesaukee Playhouse, which owns a house in Laconia that is used by actors during the playhouse season and is rented short-term the rest of the year to defray expenses. Because the house is not owner-occupied, its present use could not be continued.
Bownes said he is working on a waiver proposal “for folks who are legitimately doing what they are doing and so these people can conduct their business.” He said he was uncertain, however, whether the proposal would be ready in time for it to be presented at Monday’s council meeting.
Engler said he is willing to consider a waiver proposal that would cover the Winnipesaukee Playhouse and short-term rental hosts “who have been doing it for years,” so long as it is legally sound and conforms to the overall intention of the city’s zoning ordinance. He stressed he would oppose any move to delay enacting the regulations as currently proposed to wait for a finished draft of waiver language.
“We can always add that later,” he said.