Mark Hounsell selectmen 42021

Conway resident Mark Hounsell tells selectmen (at table, from left, David Weathers, Mary Carey Seavey and Carl Thibodeau) to listen to their attorney Peter Malia when it comes to short-term rentals. Malia is in the audience, seated at right. (DAYMOND STEER PHOTO)

CONWAY — Selectmen have decided they will begin the enforcement process against hundreds of short-term rental owners operating in the residential zones of the town.

Several ordinances seeking to allow and regulate such rentals failed at the town polls on April 13.

On Tuesday, selectmen met in non-public session with attorney Peter Malia of Hastings Malia in Fryeburg, Maine, to discuss how to move forward.

On Wednesday, Conway Town Manager Tom Holmes said the board had authorized him to issue the following brief statement:

"The selectmen agreed to begin the enforcement process which in Conway begins with a notice to the property owners regarding the violations."

Holmes added that selectmen hope to have another non-public session with Malia next Tuesday. He did not say when notices would be sent.

There are about 530 short-term rentals in Conway, which is down from pre-pandemic estimates of around 800. Holmes said that a few years ago, the town of Conway had the largest short-term rental market in the state of New Hampshire.

At this year's Town Meeting voting, selectmen's Article 3, which asked to allow short-term rentals in any zone where a single-family home is permitted, failed 1,015-492.

Voters also rejected Article 2 on the warrant, which provided a definition for short-term rentals, 720-674.

However, Article 6, allowing selectmen to regulate and license short-term rentals, passed 776-722.

Article 21, which would establish a trust fund to pay for enforcement, failed with 773 voting no, 706 voting yes. Article 22, which asked to seed the trust fund with $50,000, failed 826 (no) to 655 (yes).

However, the noise ordinance (Article 23) passed overwhelmingly, 1,298-188 (see related story). This new ordinance would address revelers as well as noisy vehicles and machinery.

Conway Village resident Mark Hounsell told the board Tuesday that they must follow the will of the voters who only gave the board one option. Hounsell spoke during public comment period of the meeting before the selectmen went into non-public session to speak with attorney Malia.

Hounsell over the years has served as a selectman, state senator, a county commissioner and most recently a member of the Conway School Board.

"The one option," Hounsell told the board, "is to start immediately issuing cease-and-desist citations for violations of operating a business enterprise in a residential zone," said Hounsell.

"Some may find it inconvenient. But until it changes, it is the law. The people rejected any change to that."

Hounsell acknowledged there will be lawsuits if the selectmen follow his advice.

"You initiate enforcement of the law, someone doesn't like it, they have the right to sue," said Hounsell. "You have the duty to defend. That's not a bad thing. It's an expensive thing. I'm sure."

Hounsell asked the selectmen to listen to Malia on how to accomplish what they must do, which is enforce the town's ordinances. He said selectmen shouldn't "pass the buck" by asking Malia to determine their course forward.

"Thank you again for everything — you do you do an excellent job," added Hounsell. "Disagreeing isn't disliking, you know, I love you all dearly."

The Sun asked the New Hampshire Association of Realtors last week about Conway's recent vote.

"Reasonable regulations are entirely appropriate as long as they are fairly and uniformly enforced," said President Jim Lee. "However, we do not believe that municipalities have the legal authority to simply ban an owner from renting out his or her residential property. The stakes are high, as New Hampshire brings in tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue due to vacation rentals."

Josh Brustin, owner/broker at Pinkham Real Estate, told the Sun: "My hope is that the selectmen don't see the 'no' vote as a referendum for an all-out ban but instead recognize that as a community, we need to come together and seriously consider what the future should look like in Conway.

"We must address the lack of affordable housing and the subsequent shortage of employees," Brustin continued. "We must consider the evolution of the sharing economy (short-term rentals) and how to manage it to ensure balance in our neighborhoods.

"We must be careful not to treat second homeowners, who contribute many tax dollars while putting minimal pressure on our infrastructure, like second-class citizens," he said.

"Only when we are willing to come up with and employ global solutions to manage growth will Conway find the balance we all are seeking."

Short-term rental operator Scott Kudrick told the Sun that the impact to tourism from the vote would be similar to shutting down 18 100-room hotels.

"The average house has three bedrooms — and 600 homes can no longer rent, that is 1,800 bedrooms with an average two people per bedroom," he said. 

He said the ripple effects will be felt in the local economy. 

"I spoke to several cleaners and contractors that stand to lose their livelihood and had no idea such a vote was taking place and the potential ramifications," said Kudrick.

What led to the vote began in August 2019, when Birch Hill resident Ray Shakir called for a community-wide discussion of short-term rentals because he said the rentals were causing issues in his neighborhood.

On Wednesday, Shakir told the Sun: "The internet brought the practice from the local paper and word of mouth to international prominence; therefore, affording a major profit motive and exposing, to what formally was mostly used by relatives, friends and references, to the entire planet; hence, sacrificing among other things neighborhood tranquility.

"Despite the undeniable advantages to the town, such as increased commerce etc., the practice is completely illegal and an insult to full-timers," said Shakir.

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(6) comments

DW_

What a shame. They literally violated homeowners' civil liberties—those who voted no have no idea what they just did. As lobbyists for the dying hotel industry, they handed power back to them. I have news for you, folks, no everyone wants to stay in a hotel room with no kitchen anymore. I'd liken this regulation to someone telling you that you can't use electricity because it burdens the town and causes bulky power lines in the street. Would you like that regulation? Of course not. So why are you tell people what they can't use their home for? These silly arguments they make are completely false and unfounded. So there are revelers in on AIRBNB, but that doesn't mean there aren't any in hotels, neither. Ridiculous.

DW_

Well... you really can’t help old people from being old. Let’s hope that they retire and move to Florida sooner than later and move on. These knuckleheads have no idea what they’re talking about and most likely working as lobbyists for the dying hotel industry.

If somebody wants to stay in a hotel with no kitchen, then they have the right to do so, but if somebody wants to stay in a home with the kitchen, that’s where they to a short term rental.

You idiots who voted no have no idea what you just did. You completely handed over an industry that was dying while encroached on people civil liberty. New Hampshire’s live free or die is turning into a die and don’t live state. Kudos to you all for regular waiting freedom. What a joke!

Revrickw

Are short term rentals always a commercial venture, or just a way to help pay for the pretty high property taxes in the town?

I'm thinking that there are many many other "commercial ventures" operating in residential areas of the town as home businesses, and the enforcement of this "law" shouldn't stop at short term rentals, a term that cannot even be defined.

B2MA

I am proud to say, that I have operated a short term rental in North Conway for more than six years. Through this endeavor, I have befriended and fortunately employed cleaners, maintenance contractors, lawn care and snow removal companies, all of which could now potentially be without that income. In addition, I have published a booklet which gave flowering reviews and recommendations to local restaurants and encouraged my guests to visit these establishments to help the local economy. Families have made memories in my home (many have returned for years) all the while maintaining a peaceful stay while vacationing in the valley and supporting the community with their spending.

I have paid all of my property and rental taxes willingly and responsibly. Through it all, I had one issue at my home...a renter once burned some bacon that triggered a non-rescindable visit from the fire department.

For those that have seemingly fought so hard against STRs, I would truly ask why? Would you have ever considered to request the town simply address disturbances at the small number of the repeat offenders? Would this have been a more productive approach to address your concerns while not jeopardizing the local economy and potentially eliminating jobs of others that live and work in your community? Would addressing the “bad apples” and simply supporting regulation have been enough to maintain a reasonable co-existence of STRs?

I would tend to think so...

LUVMWV2

If you have been operating a short term rental, you were probably violating existing regulations. Residential areas and created for specifically that purpose, business areas the same. We have limited space, and thus, need residential areas to be residential. 2nd home owners do create barriers to supporting local housing, but short term tenants bring in traffic, take away from known neighbors, and leave the neighbors to supervise your business. yes, you took advantage and made some money, but there are businesses unable to find contractors and employees to support their legal hospitality businesses. Tourists will be more satisfied when they can fully enjoy their experiences, and neighborhoods will better be supported and enjoyed by residents as you enjoy your local neighborhood in your hometown. I just ask, if AirBnBs surrounded your home, would you think differently? Truth is, short term rentals do not have the positive impact suggested, just search google and see how they have devastated communities, increased homelessness, and changed the atmosphere of small towns.

B2MA

There is an extrapolation that all occupants of short term rentals are bad, rowdy and cause disturbances. This simply isn’t the case, and better regulation of repeat offenders would have been a viable compromise for all.

Most vacation rental occupants (or winter seasonal renters that have existed for decades) do so because they do not want to stay in hotels...especially post-pandemic. Many of those individuals will now simply vacation elsewhere. This will inevitably decrease the tourist volume and associated spending at the locally owned restaurants and shops. Rental tax dollars that have assisted the municipality in meeting the budget requirements will no longer be there as illustrated by other responses. As a result, property taxes will inevitably rise (not related at all to home valuations but based solely on the need to cover the town’s expenses due to the rental income budget deficit) or services and investment by the town will inherently decline. It will take time for the ramifications to become more clear, and the “emotions” driving the no vote may very well be regretted.

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