LACONIA — The city Planning Department has started enforcement actions against four property owners operating short-term, Airbnb-type rentals that drew complaints from neighbors, Planning Director Dean Trefethen said.

The City Council decided in October that city zoning rules do not permit short-term rentals in most residential areas, and that this prohibition should be enforced when complaints are made.

Although the Lakes Region has long been a place where visitors rent homes and cottages for short periods of time, the success of online marketers – such as the website Airbnb – mean there are more short-term rentals in residential areas. This occasionally leads to complaints, usually about noise, though sometimes there are also concerns about parking issues, trash or trespassing.

The Planning Department checks on complaints and decides whether to move forward with an enforcement action requiring that the property no longer be rented out. Property owners who fail to respond could be taken to court and may be subject to fines of up to of $275 per day.

These owners also have the option of requesting a variance or special exception to zoning rules to allow short-term rentals, and three are doing so.

Trefethen said if the Zoning Board of Adjustment were to grant such requests, they could attach restrictions in an attempt to ease neighborhood conflicts.

“They could make a condition that if we get another noise complaint, we could revoke the variance,” he said Tuesday. “It wouldn’t be a green light for business as usual. I would encourage the board to do that.”

There could also be a requirement that if the property owner lives out of town, there needs to be a local point of contact, such as a property manager, who could deal with complaints or ease problems.

“We need to get the point across to prospective tenants that they are in the middle of a residential zone,” Trefethen said. “They are on vacation, but the neighbors aren’t. The tenants need to be quiet and respectful, and that’s not been the case across the board.”

He said if neighbors have a significant noise or trespassing complaint they can always call the police to try to resolve the matter. This also sets up a paper trail that makes it easier to document that there have been legitimate complaints about a property.

The issue surfaced in September when neighbors of a home at 1345 Old North Main Street demanded better regulation. They said the residence was being used as a “party house,” that there were large numbers of guests and the situation had become disruptive.

The Planning Department sent an enforcement letter to the owners, a Newton, Massachusetts, couple. They have since sold the property and the new owners, who will be living there full time don’t plan to rent it out, Trefethen said.

Enforcement actions are pending on three other properties, where neighbors have complained about noise from renters.

A Dracut, Massachusetts, woman who owns a home on 110 Franklin St., is requesting a variance through the Zoning Board of Adjustment to allow continued short-term rentals. In addition to noise, some neighbors said renters were using beaches on Lake Opechee that they were not entitled to use. That item is scheduled to come up at the board’s Dec. 17 meeting.

At the same Zoning Board meeting, a Windham, New Hampshire, man will also seek a variance to allow continued short-term rentals at 7 Rose Point in the Long Bay area.

Finally, a Bedford, Massachusetts, man plans to seek a special exception at the board’s Jan. 22 meeting to allow short-term rentals at 77 Opechee St., near Laconia Middle School.

Trefethen said that although there have only been four cases to date involving complaints and short-term rentals, this is the off-season. A better test will come during the summer when more rentals occur.

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