LACONIA — Neighbors who live on Old North Main Street appeared before the City Council on Monday to demand better regulation of short-term rentals after a summer of problems with a “party house” on their normally tranquil street.
Councilors told city staff to meet with attorneys to see what regulation may be allowable for Airbnb-type properties like this.
Former Mayor Paul Fitzgerald said activities at 1345 Old North Main Street have become a nuisance.
The 2,762-square-foot home, built in 1979, is owned by a Massachusetts couple. It is being rented out for short periods to large groups of visitors. The couple did not immediately return calls for comment.
“It was used as a single-family home for many decades, but this year, all of the sudden, it’s become what’s been referred to as a party house,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s been converted to allow up to 20 people to use it as a time.”
Guests party loudly into the evening while neighbors and their children are trying to sleep, Fitzgerald said.
“There’s been profanity, outdoor urination, fireworks, a variety of mechanical noises, air horns, car horns well into the evening, music, use of karaoke machines, which of course we all love at 2 a.m.,” he said. “Burning embers have been dumped over the fence into the next lot’s yard. There’s been huge accumulations of trash. Young tenants go onto other properties.”
He suggested that the City Council not view this as an isolated incident, but as a harbinger of problems to come from the growing short-term rental industry.
The city should head off such problems through zoning, licensing and stepped up code and fire enforcement, he said.
Planning Director Dean Trefethen said the city will likely need enabling legislation from the state Legislature before it can move forward.
Initial advice, Trefethen said, is that the city would not be on solid legal ground by simply prohibiting Airbnb-type rentals in residential areas. It would be similarly problematic to allow them to operate only under a license that could be revoked.
“Without an expressed consent from the Legislature for the city to regulate, we probably can’t put restrictions on the activity,” he said.
Also, many of these short-term rentals are not problematic, he said.
Before the advent of Airbnb, this area has long had many traditional, summer rentals of “seasonal camps,” and other properties. This would need to be taken into consideration with any new scheme to regulate short-term rentals.
“Safety and national fire codes could provide a mechanism to at least conduct safety inspections and impose some level of regulations based on safety,” Trefethen said. “This is being explored.”
Fitzgerald, who is an attorney, said the city already restricts property uses through zoning, and there’s no reason why this couldn’t be expanded to short-term rentals.
“I have a fundamental, respectful disagreement with Dean,” he said. “I don’t think you are as limited as he may believe you are.
“Zoning statutes are broad and expansive and give you a large grant of power to regulate a wide variety of activities for the benefit of the citizenry of the residents of laconia, for the public welfare, health and safety and other purposes as well.
“You have the right and authority to regulate home occupations, boarding houses, hotels, motels, other forms of residences.”
Sara Rosenbloom, who lives next to the house being used as a short-term rental, said this use is not consistent with the surrounding residences.
“If they had applied to build a hotel there, they would have been turned down because it’s not an appropriate use of the property, but that’s what they are doing effectively,” she said.
Enforcement alone won’t solve the problem, she said.
“It doesn’t really work for us to call the police when people are outside talking at midnight,” she said. “I mean they are not being evil. I think police have better things to do than say, ‘Put out your campfire, it’s time to go inside.
“Same thing for car alarm beeps. They forget that they have their car out there, or they remember that it is out there at 1 a.m., so they are out there clicking their beepers to lock their cars.
“There’s all these little things. People are out there collecting clams in the cove. I don't know what they were doing. It looked like they were going to eat them. People were fishing there non-stop, and you’re wondering, like, ‘Do they have a fishing license?’”
Another neighbor, Andy Mercer, said he’s been taken aback.
“I have a young daughter who is up all night due to the noise complaints,” he said.
The city needs to address the overall issue if it hopes to attract and retain young families, Mercer said.
Trefethen said there may be about 100 short-term rental properties in the city. The state gets its 9 percent rooms tax, but doesn’t regulate the business.
Other than the property on Old North Main Street, there have been a couple inquiries about other short-term rentals, but no apparent wide scale problems.
Liz DeBold Fusco, a spokeswoman for Airbnb, said the company recognizes the need for common-sense regulations and works with municipalities to craft policies and deal with public safety concerns.