LACONIA — With the approval of their immediate neighbors, people would be allowed to operate short-term rentals in most parts of the city under a proposal Mayor Ed Engler presented at the City Council meeting on Monday evening.

Current zoning ordinances ban such rentals in most residential areas, but the council has decided not to enforce those rules unless someone complains.

“I think that our current policy of ‘See no evil, hear no evil’ is not terribly legally defensible in the long run, and that we need to get on this subject and make some decisions,” Engler said. 

In a few cases where there have been complaints, the Zoning Board of Adjustment has required property owners to stop the rentals.

The issue has come to a head in Laconia and other resort areas as people flock to online rental marketers such as Airbnb and VRBO. Neighbors occasionally object to noise or parking problems, while property owners say rentals should be their right and that they are attracting paying visitors to the area. 

Engler’s proposal would require those wishing to run a short-term rental to apply yearly to the Planning Department for a routine permit to be granted if rental days are limited to 100 and if neighbors on the sides, back and across the street do not object.

He said the housing stock in Laconia is already in short supply, which is further reduced when people snap up residences in order to rent them out to visitors.

“If we become a community where the homes are more and more owned by investors as opposed to the people who are living in them, that eats at the very fabric of community,” Engler said.

Operating a short-term rental without a permit, under his plan, would be subject to a substantial fine per occurrence, with fines escalating if there are repeat offenses.

Boarding, rooming and lodging houses are already permitted in the commercial resort and shorefront residential areas, and those areas would not be subject to the new permitting requirements.

The City Council sent Engler’s proposal to a subcommittee that will hold a meeting and make a recommendation. The Planning Commission also would weigh in on the proposal before it returns to the council for final action.

City Manager Scott Myers has said short-term rentals are a significant issue.

“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.

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