CONWAY — A new bill filed in the state Senate to regulate short-term rentals had selectmen on Tuesday questioning whether it would limit their efforts to address residents’ complaints about problems related to the rentals in some neighborhoods.
Sen. Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro), one of the sponsors of the bill, told the Sun the bill is meant to be a compromise to allow towns to regulate but not ban short-term rentals.
The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Harold French (R-Franklin) and Sen. Lou D’Allesandro (D-Manchester).
The issue of online rentals heated up Aug. 20 after North Conway resident/planning board member Ray Shakir called on selectmen to take action about what he called a big problem in his neighborhood.
During Tuesday’s selectmen’s meeting, the selectmen agreed to form a committee to draft short-term regulations to be proposed at next year’s town meeting.
They also brought up Bradley’s SB 458.
Bradley represents Conway among other Carroll County towns. He introduced the bill in the fall. Right now, it’s in the Senate Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee.
Town Manager Tom Holmes said the bill would prevent towns from regulating short-term rentals. He said one of the cosponsors works as a real estate broker. Holmes was apparently referring to French, whose profession, listed on the state Senate website, is auctioneer and real estate broker.
“This is causing some concern,” said Holmes. “In addition, it does give some limited, very limited powers to life safety issues to be governed by the fire chiefs and also some limited powers to the police in responding to disorderly conduct at the household which really doesn’t move the ball in the direction of addressing the poor management (at some short–term rentals).”
Holmes said he wasn’t sure how likely the bill was to pass in its current form.
Selectman Carl Thibodeau, who has spent the last few months on a committee aimed at trying to address short–term rentals, said he was “baffled” by Bradley’s bill.
“I think it’s time we send the good senator an invitation to have a closed-door meeting with at least one or two selectmen and the town manager for the purposes of educating each other,” said Thibodeau. “I think somewhere along the line there’s a whole bunch of missing information that both parties need to have. I think it’s time for a sit-down.”
Holmes questioned if the discussion should be held behind closed doors and Thibodeau said he would be fine talking about it in a public meeting.
“There’s gotta be an exchange of information because there are many bewildering things that I simply don’t get it,” said Thibodeau.
After the Conway selectmen’s meeting, the Sun contacted Bradley by phone Tuesday evening. If the bill is passed as written it would become law Jan. 1, 2021.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of controversy about short–term rentals,” said Bradley. “What I’m trying to do is find a compromise that does not allow for an outright ban but at the same time allows a town to target irresponsible property owners by revoking a license to have a short–term rental.”
Right now, towns cannot license short–term rentals, said Bradley, so allowing towns to issue licenses and revoke them is a “middle ground” compromise.
Bradley said he would be willing to talk to selectmen about the issue. If towns banned short–term rentals it would hurt the tourist economy and also mean less rooms and meals tax revenue for the state. At the same time, “you don’t want neighborhoods overrun with party houses.”
If passed, the bill would allow towns and cities to create an ordinance requiring short–term rental owners to register with the clerk the name and contact information of a person who is authorized to accept legal papers on behalf of the owner. A municipality can ask for a $50 fee for such registration.
A municipality may also require that the owner of short–term rentals post fire exit information in “clearly visible locations” on the property.
The bill also allows fire officials to inspect for smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
In terms of regulating “disorderly households,” the bill provides for both fines and registration revocations. The first time police are called to a short–term rental, the owner would be notified of the police response and town bylaws.
After a second offense, the owner of the rental may be fined $500 but that fine would be waived if the owner or his or her representative meets with the chief of police within 10 days to determine ways to prevent future problems.
A third violation may result in a $1,000 fine and a three-month suspension from being able to rent the property short–term.
“I’m trying to find a middle ground,” said Bradley. “Something that weeds out bad actors.”
The House Thursday declined to pass a bill by Rep. Ed Butler (D-Hart’s Location) that was aimed at disorderly houses. This bill was laid on the table, meaning it could possibly come back. Meanwhile, New Hampshire Realtors Vice President of Government Affairs Bob Quinn said his organization feels Bradley’s bill is better written.