CONWAY — A town resident attending Tuesday's selectmen's meeting called for a community-wide discussion of short-term rentals. Ray Shakir, who lives in the Birch Hill section of North Conway, brought up the issue of short-term rentals ("Airbnbs") during the public comment portion at the end of Tuesday's Conway selectmen's meeting.
Afterward, some selectmen expressed interest in having a community discussion of the topic.
“I would like to light the fuse on a concern that you people are very familiar with ... but it’s going to hit the fan sooner or later, and that is Airbnb rentals,” Shakir said.
While Shakir is a member of the Conway Planning Board, he said he was speaking simply as a private citizen.
But he is expected to bring the topic of short-term rentals up again at the planning board meeting that starts at 7 p.m. tonight at Conway Town Hall.
He believes such rentals are against residential zoning because homes are now being used as businesses.
“It brings a hardship to people who live here year around in terms of congestion, in terms of noise, in terms of dogs ... in terms of litter, in terms of devaluing the neighborhood, in terms of lack of maintenance to houses that are just bought to rent,” said Shakir. “There’s no personal responsibility. There is no respect for lot lines. There is constant, constant strangers coming into the neighborhood.”
While Shakir acknowledges most businesses benefit from the tourism that short-term rentals help support, he said it is “a double edged sword.”
He said he wasn’t talking about curbing property rights. Instead, he wants to regulate businesses operating in residential neighborhoods for things like noise, how many people/animals can stay in a rental, etc.
Shakir said, “I’m 100 percent for freedom, but we have to draw the line someplace. We have to make sure this remains a very peaceful, accommodating town that everybody wants to go to, to have a good time. That means we have to take care of the dirt bags that come over here.”
Selectman Mary Carey Seavey said discourteous renters are taking away rights from residents who want to live in “peace and quiet.”
Asked if selectmen would put a discussion of short-term rentals on their agenda, Town Manager Tom Holmes said: “I will tell the selectmen Mr. Shakir isn’t the only person who wants to come talk to this board about this issue.”
Selectman Carl Thibodeau, who stressed that he is a capitalist, said in the past he had been disinclined to pursue regulation as he thought that most short-term property owners were simply looking to get by.
“It appears that it’s not just mom and pop trying to scrape up a few extra bucks by renting out an extra room; this is now turned into an entire industry, and it’s an industry screaming to have itself regulated,” said Thibodeau, who expressed interest in having a meeting.
“We may find out things that No. 1, we didn’t know and likely find out things that we really didn’t want to know. Both of which would lend itself to being able to make better informed decisions,” he said.
Selectman Steve Porter said in the past, short-term rentals were just given to friends and family, and there wasn’t any impact to the valley, but now it’s a bigger deal.
Holmes said Conway has more Airbnb short-term rentals than any other town in the state.
Holmes said while there’s an estimated 500 such rentals, only a small percentage of properties generate a complaint. So the town backed a bill that would allow the town to fine disorderly households. At present, occupants, not owners, can get in trouble. He said the bill is in the Municipal and County committee.
The bill that Holmes referred to was sponsored by state Rep. Ed Butler (D-Hart’s Location). It is HB 655 and is scheduled to be discussed Aug. 27 at 10 a.m. at the Legislative Office Building in Concord Room 304.
Holmes said other issues are too many cars at a residence, illegal curb cuts and the impact on septic systems. People also are reportedly leaving trash at Davis Park and Schouler Park presumably because they don’t have access to a dumpster or the transfer station.
“At one point, people were very happy when the town would get around to paving their street. Now we are getting complaints that we are waking these tenants up too early and people are having to refund money,” said Holmes.
In his opinion, the two ways to address the issue are licensing and zoning. Zoning would grandfather in short-term rentals, while licensing would require the town to add staff. But he said the town “might regret it” if no regulations were in place and there was a fatal fire at a short-term rental.
“We’re at a point where I think the public has to weigh in,” said Holmes.