Supportive of short-term rentals, city wants to avoid future problems

The Berlin city council met in person last week but still social distanced and some wore masks. (BARBARA TETREAULT)

BERLIN — Generally supportive of short-term rentals, the city council last week discussed putting a registration system in place to avoid future problems.

Community Development Director Pamela Laflamme said over the past three months, the planning board has discussed short-term rentals and reviewed ordinances at the council’s request. She said there are currently approximately 40 short-term rentals in the city. Without a hotel or large lodging establishment in Berlin, the city views long-term rentals as a way to attract tourists and ATV riders to stay here and spend money with local businesses and restaurants.

Laflamme said the city has received only a few complaints so far and they come from about three properties. The primary issues, she said, have been noise, trash and parking, which Laflamme noted are all addressed by various city ordinances.

One suggestion by the planning board is requiring short-term rental owners to register with the police and fire departments so the city knows the property is being used as a short-term rental. The owner would also be asked to provide a local contact person in case of an emergency or to help resolve any issue or complaint that arises. There would be no registration fee.

Another suggestion is to create a document explaining city regulations regarding noise, trash disposal, parking that could be shared with owners and renters. The board also said the city could set up a process to resolve complaints with possible fines for repeat offenders and even suspending use of the property for short-term rentals. But the board said enforcement of such a system would likely fall to the police and fire departments and could tax limited resources. The board suggested that as an area for more study.

Laflamme said the city could also regulate short-term rentals through the zoning restrictions but said at this time the board did not see that level of regulation is warranted.

City Councilor Lucie Remillard, who is an ex-officio member of the planning board, said she recommended sending the issue to the council traffic and safety committee. She said with the assistance of Police Chief Peter Morency, the committee could look at setting up a process to issue warnings and fines now before the city has a major problem. Morency pointed out the city already has a landlord nuisance ordinance in place.

Mayor Paul Grenier said he would like the police department involved with putting together a set of enforceable regulations because the department will be handling most of the complaints. City Manager James Wheeler recommended taking a hard look at the existing rules and regulations.

Grenier said he would like to have the city put together a packet for short-term rental owners that includes local regulations and require short-term rental owners to register. He stressed he wants the city to be pro-active to allow the types of issues that other communities like North Conway are facing.

“I don’t want to wait until we have a big problem,” he said.

Councilor Mark Eastman asked if the registration could be done online and Laflamme said the city could set it up the city Web page.

Councilor Diana Berthiaume suggested any packet the city put together also include OHRV (off-highway recreation vehicle) regulations.

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