short-term rentals in Rhode Island

The Town Council heard the good and bad of short-term rentals last night.

Matt Sheley, Public Affairs Officer for the Town of Middletown, shared the following “News You Can Use” on the town’s website on Monday, February 1.

The Town Council heard the good and bad of short-term rentals tonight.

Soliciting input about the hot-button subject during an online webinar, local leaders listened to opinions about what the town should do to address the issue –if anything.

Beefing up enforcement, adding a new zoning enforcement officer responsible for short-term rentals as well as cracking down on unregistered rentals and so-called “party houses” were talked about, among other suggestions. There was also wide discussion about a proposal to tax short-term rental properties in residential zones at the town’s commercial tax rate.

The council did not make any decisions on those issues tonight. Instead, the council agreed to take up the matter again at its next regular meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 16. Building Official Chris Costa, Tax Assessor George Durgin and Police Chief William Kewer were asked to attend to the next session to discuss the situation.

“In one hand, the council is constantly talking about affordable housing and on the other hand, we’re talking about short-term rentals, so where is that balance because they go hand in hand…” council Vice President Paul M. Rodrigues said. “Let’s continue to discuss it and see where it goes or it doesn’t go.”

The situation with short-term rentals has been hot for the past five years plus as the popularity of online booking sites like Airbnb and Vrbo has grown.

Some say short-term rentals are good for local businesses and the economy. Others counter the town is paying a high price for the resulting parties, parking, littering and other problems. They say this particularly true during the summer in Easton’s Point in the southern end of town.

Currently, there are about 200 short-term rentals registered in Middletown, according to town records. Under town rules, short-term rental operators must reregister their properties every April. There’s at least a$55 fee for each bedroom in any short-term rental.

The town’s Economic Development Advisory Committee is looking to reduce the length of time a property would be considered a “short-term” rental. Under the existing definition, a short-term rental is a home, apartment or dwelling available for rent for six months or less. The MEDAC proposal would cut that length to 21 days –or less.

Council members Terri Flynn and Dennis Turano and Town Solicitor Peter Regan recused themselves from the entire discussion as short-term rental owners. Council President Robert J. Sylvia recused himself from the tax discussion as the owner of a long-term rental property in town.

A recent survey done by the town found close to 49 percent of the respondents strongly agreed or agreed short-term rentals were a “good thing” for Middletown. On the other side, 38 percent said they strongly disagreed or disagreed, with the remaining 13 percent neither agreeing or disagreeing.

The survey showed 26 percent of the respondents operated a short-term rental, with the remaining 74 percent nonoperators. Also, 71 percent of the respondents said they lived near a short-term rental and 29 percent not living close to such a property.

Several short-term rental owners spoke, saying they felt they were getting unfairly lumped in with rental operators who didn’t register or follow the rules.

“My issues are with the houses that continually rent over and over again, the people out of control from 12 to 4 o’clock in the a.m. with screaming, laughing and use of obscene language,” resident David Rushlow said. “I’m an on-site landlord and I know my renters are behaving…”

“Neither the town, nor the police when they are called nor the judicial system in the town enforces as written and they should,” said resident Michael Flynn, husband of Councilwoman Terri Flynn. “No. 2, the town should take care not to lump all short-term rental operators into one group. The problem stems from a very small number of operators, I would think.”

Resident Barry Doyle said he lives next to an unregistered short-term rental that advertises five bedrooms and sleeps 15 people. Summer weekend after summer weekend, Doyle said the house is a problem and without cracking down on the situation, it continues every year.

“I don’t see how an increased tax base or changing the tax is going to fix the quality of life problem,” Doyle said. “All it’s going to do is disproportionally hurt the smaller short-term rentals that are following the rules…My problem rests with a different category –these party houses. They are a different breed.”

“I think ultimately what I’m hearing is we want to have a strong program so we’re doing our best to maintain and restore the quality of life in the neighborhoods,” Town Administrator Shawn J. Brown said.

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