LACONIA — City zoning rules do not permit short-term rentals in most residential areas, and this prohibition should be enforced when complaints come in about such operations, the City Council decided Tuesday.
The issue came up last month when neighbors who live on Old North Main Street demanded better regulation of Airbnb-type rentals after a summer of problems with a “party house” on the normally tranquil street. No other properties have attracted official complaints.
Attorney Laura Spector-Morgan advised the council it could regulate the issue under an existing ordinance that lists the uses that are permitted in various zones throughout the city.
Councilors decided Tuesday to recommend enforcement only when neighbors or others, including police or code enforcement officers, complain.
Planning Director Dean Trefethen said his department would check the complaint and decide 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 could be subject to fines of $275 per day.
Many towns and cities are wrestling with the issue of short-term rentals.
In Meredith, a complaint came in about one such rental and planning officials are studying the matter. Other Lakes Region communities, including Gilford, do not regulate short-term rentals and have no plans to do so.
Las Vegas and Glendale, Calif., are considering banning short-term rentals.
In San Diego, the City Council passed regulations to bar such rentals in second homes and investor properties. Those regulations are now on hold after opponents gathered enough signatures to put the issue to a public vote.
“It goes beyond the traditional resort-type function that we’ve had for decades, where people had rented out camps and things like that,” Trefethen said. “There’s an easier way to do it now with online programs and in a lot of cases you’re getting tenants that you don’t know and you may not have control over them.”
While online companies like Airbnb have led to an increase in short-term rentals, the Lakes Region has always been a popular area for people to rent residences for weeks at a time during the summer.
All short-term rentals will be subject to the new enforcement process, City Manager Scott Myers told councilors.
“While we are mentioning Airbnb, that’s just a platform,” Myers said. “There are multiple platforms. It could also be the old traditional way before we had the internet and somebody gave a listing to a Realtor. We are talking about any short-term rental within the residential district. It could be someone who vacations away a month every summer and they rent their house for a month every summer, and it’s not a party house, or whatever.
“We will take your direction and only seek out those that we either identify or are brought to our attention, but it does broaden the scope. It’s not just an Airbnb.
“It could be someone not renting a party house but a family of mom and dad and two kids coming in for the weekend, and no problems. You could have somebody in the neighborhood saying, ‘Oh, they are renting the property.’
“You’d have to address that the same as someone who was advertising.”
The city’s zoning ordinance says “boarding/rooming/lodging house” is a use permitted only in the shorefront residential and the commercial resort zones. Elsewhere, it is not permitted or permitted only through a special exception process.
The short-term rental house that drew the complaints is at 1345 Old North Main St. and backs on to Opechee Bay. That is a residential zone where a short-term rental is not permitted under the zoning ordinance.
Trefethen said the Massachusetts couple who owns the home will get a letter telling them to stop renting it out.
“They will be our first,” he said. “That will happen within a few days.”