CONWAY — Police responded to several short-term rental noise complaints over the weekend as residents prepare to vote on new regulations for the rental properties today.
The rentals, which pre-pandemic totaled over 700 in Conway alone, have caused considerable controversy in town. Some say they are ruining neighborhoods while others argue they help the economy.
Conway residents will be voting from 8 a.m.-7 p.m. today at Kennett High School. Out of a total 34 articles on the ballot, six pertaining to short-term rentals received a lot of debate.
Conway police logs show there were five noise complaints from Friday, April 9, to Monday, April 12. An officer responded Friday night to Seavey Street/North South Road for a "very loud" party, and the occupants agreed to "take it inside and turn down the music." On Saturday, at about 7 p.m. an officer responded to Sunset Drive to deal with renters who were "on the back deck playing some kind of drinking game, screaming and carrying on." This group was also "agreeable' to toning down the noise after "being made aware of the neighborhood situation," police said.
At around 1 a.m. Monday, an officer responded to a short-term rental where there were "loud subjects in a hot tub" on Ridge Circle.
Another complaint had to do with occupants of a short-term rental on Old Bartlett Road having a bonfire Friday night. On Monday, North Conway Fire Chief Pat Preece said the fire was actually permitted and "above board."
However, "in all cases it appears as though the violators toned things down after having initial police contact," said Conway Police Chief Chris Mattei, adding this was the first warm weekend since the fall.
"We will keep a close eye on this moving forward and (Town Manager Tom Holmes) and I will communicate weekly as to the need for further intervention as it pertains to short-term rentals," Mattei promised.
Mattei said police have received 45 complaints about short-term rentals since April 2020. At present, there are about 533 short-term rentals in Conway. Holmes said it's "definitely a minority" of rental units that are repeat offenders.
Mattie added in a text, "although we have had some of the same properties generate calls that is not the norm."
Article 2 on the Conway Town Meeting warrant provides a definition for short-term rentals. Article 3 would allow them in any zone where a single-family home is permitted. If this fails, non-owner-occupied short-term rentals would be illegal in residential zones.
Article 6 would allow selectmen to regulate and license short-term rentals. Article 21 would establish a trust fund to pay for enforcement. Article 22 would seed the trust fund with $50,000. Article 23 would create a noise ordinance that would allow the town to issue violations to short-term rental property owners if renters cause a series of disturbances.
How disturbances would be handled, if all the articles pass, is laid out in the "Regulations of Short-Term Rentals Proposed by the Committee and Accepted by the Board of Selectmen," which is posted on the town website, conwaynh.org.
It says, among other things, that the rentals would have to be licensed by the town and meet various criteria to become licensed.
Failure to get a license would result in a criminal offense and or result in a fine of $275 for the first day and $550 for every subsequent day the property is rented or offered for rent.
Poorly behaved guests could also cause issues for a license holder. "Noise complaints, when reported to the town, may constitute a violation of this ordinance when the reporting party is willing to make a written complaint or provide evidence of excessive noise," states the proposed regulations.
Holmes said the noise ordinance could possibly be used against STR owners if it could be proved the owner was allowing noise to be made.
Mattei said the noise ordinance would give officers more flexibility when dealing with certain disturbances. Also, proceeds from any fines levied under the ordinance would go back to the town, not the state. The noise ordinance would also apply to construction equipment and vehicles at very early or late hours.
The proposed regulations also speak to life safety, fire pits and occupancy limits.
"The maximum number of overnight guests permitted in a short-term rental is, not more than 2 persons per bedroom, plus 2 additional guests," they say. "Children under 3 years old sleeping in their parent’s bedroom shall not count toward the occupant load. The maximum number of people allowed on the property after midnight shall not exceed the approved occupant load."
Holmes said if the articles pass, residents with noise complaints would call the police and a STR monitoring company's hotline, once it's set up.
"Actions will range from a warning to fines to loss of license," said Holmes.
Owners may appeal to the board of selectmen. Selectmen may change the regulations if they find they are not working.
"STR regulations under the purview of (selectmen's) police powers can be modified or adjusted without waiting for town meetings," said Holmes.