CONWAY — A little over 40 percent of Conway's noise complaints this spring and summer came from short-term rentals, according to the police chief, adding that no fines have been given out.
Town residents on April 13 overwhelmingly voted to pass a noise ordinance proposed by selectmen. However, town voters rejected other articles that would have allowed short-term rentals in residential zones. Now, the town is seeking a class action declaratory judgement from the Carroll County Superior Court stating non-owner STRs are not allowed in Conway's residential zones. The town's lawsuit says there are more than 500 members of the class. Approximately 10 percent of Conway's housing stock, when counting single family homes, mobile homes and condos, is used for short-term rentals.
In response to an inquiry from the Sun about how the new noise ordinance is working, Police Chief Chris Mattei said in an email that since May 1, there have been 65 noise calls. Of them, 28 (43 percent) were from short-term rentals.
"We had to respond to five short-term rental houses more than once, on different occasions, for noise reports," said Mattei. "No citations have been written as we have not had to return to a house for the same group of people after they received the first warning."
The fine schedule set by selectmen dictates that the fine after the first written offense is $100. A second violation would be $250 and a third, $500.
What constitutes a violation, according to the ordinance is making "any excessive or loud, unusual or other unnecessary noise, or any noise which either annoys, disturbs, injures or is likely to endanger the comfort, repose, health, peace or safety of others within the town limits."
The noise may include "the operation, playing, or using of any audio equipment, sound amplifier or other device which reproduces or amplifies sound."
Other noises, such as from dumpsters, chain saws, lawn mowers and jack hammers between the hours of 10 p.m.-7 p.m. are also included in the ordinance.
Reached for comment, Mt. Washington Valley Association for Responsible Vacation Rentals President David Cavanaugh found it encouraging that the majority of complaints were not from occupied STRs.
"More importantly, all 28 complaints resulted in one warning and never a follow-up complaint," said Cavanaugh. "This is a signal that our members and STR owners are getting their voice out to the guests to ensure they are complying with responsible behavior and good neighbor policies."
He said they are aware of "a handful of STR owner"s who have had repeated calls over time. "We will continue to self-police within our membership and extend to any known STRs in town," Cavanaugh said.
Meanwhile, in Madison, the planning board also is looking at regulating short-term rentals. A noise ordinance was discussed at its Wednesday meeting.
"We don't have a noise ordinance now, but it's something that we should start with," said planning board alternate Philip LaRoche.
Madison Selectman Josh Shackford, who retired as Freedom's police chief earlier this year, was skeptical that a noise ordinance could actually be enforced.
"I'd love to know how many summonses have been written from Conway's noise ordinance," said Shackford. "It's impossible to enforce, by statute, completely impossible."
Mattei had a different opinion.
"I do believe the ordinance can be enforced as our selectboard have followed the proper steps in order to enact the ordinance," said Mattei.