CONWAY — As selectmen gear up to crack down on non-owner-occupied short-term rentals, property owners are organizing, and the president of the White Mountain Board of Realtors is questioning selectmen’s legal authority to restrict the practice.
Several ordinances seeking to allow all such rentals failed at the town polls on April 13. Currently, there are about 500 short-term rental properties in town.
Last Tuesday, selectmen met in non-public session with attorney Peter Malia of Hastings Malia of Fryeburg, Maine. The next day, Conway Town Manager Tom Holmes said the board had authorized him to issue a statement that said: “The selectmen agreed to begin the enforcement process which in Conway begins with a notice to the property owners regarding the violations.”
Selectmen, who have designated Holmes to be the town’s spokesman on the issue, are set to meet again with Malia today in non-public session at the end of their regular selectmen’s meeting, which is starts at 4 p.m. at Town Hall in Conway Village. Selectmen take public input at the end of their meetings, which are also on Zoom and live streamed to Facebook.
Since the vote, second-home owners and other local stakeholders on both sides of the issue have been meeting on a Facebook page called Vacation and Second Home Owners, Conway, NH. One of the page administrators is Josh Brustin, owner/broker at Pinkham Real Estate.
“There are about 1,000 people who are engaged right now in what’s happening,” said Brustin. “The numbers have definitely grown dramatically since that Tuesday vote.”
The group held an online meeting over the weekend, and Brustin noted: “I left that meeting feeling was that second homeowners truly love the valley and want to be part of the solution, not the problem and the last thing they want is years of litigation.”
He said since they make up at least 40 percent of the town’s homeownership, “they would at the very least like to be heard.
“They’re not looking to storm town hall with pitchforks,” Brustin continued. “It’s actually the opposite.” He said they want to demonstrate to the town that they are committed to being good neighbors. “Their hope is that the two sides can come together to find compromise.”
Brustin mentioned one solution being a service called NoiseAware, which would alert out-of-town owners the minute their guests are making too much noise.
“Those using the software say that it has given them real peace of mind knowing their property isn’t being used as a party house and that they are being good neighbors,” said Brustin.
Brustin also said he would personally be fine with capping the number of short term rental licenses granted by the town. He believes many people voted down the regulations because they felt there was no mechanism to control spread.
“I will continue to support licensed, regulated and controlled short-term rentals,” said Brustin. “But I am not taking the lead with the second-home group. They demonstrated over the weekend that they are more than capable of doing that themselves.”
Bristol, R.I. woman Analee A. Berretto, who with her boyfriend has owned a short-term rental in North Conway since last November, wrote to Gov. Chris Sununu, state Sen. Jeb Bradley and Holmes about the vote and shared it with the Sun. She said she and her boyfriend have spent thousands of dollars improving the property.
She said she had rented the home from the previous owner for 15 years, that her children learned to ski at Cranmore and that they have spent many holidays in town.
“Denying us the ability to rent it out does make it very difficult to afford and maintain the property,” said Berretto. “It also takes away from the area the revenue that our renters provide.
“Since January we have rented it out 17 times. These families went tubing, skiing, ate at local restaurants and shopped at all the town shops and local outlets. This also provided $3,450 in wages to a local family who clean and maintain the townhouse for us.”
Berreto said she screens prospective renters and that her neighbor has her phone number in case there is a problem and a renter needs to be removed.
She said she hopes the town can re-evaluate what the vote means so it doesn’t end up punishing all short-term renters.
Holmes said that at Tuesday’s meeting, public comment will be limited to 15 minutes, total.
“We have a closed session scheduled that evening and if we were to not limit oral comment, it’s possible we would be there for hours, and short-term rentals are not on the agenda for the public meeting,” said Holmes in an email Monday, adding people may “submit their comments in writing to the selectmen through my office.
People can mail their comments to Board of Selectmen, Town of Conway, P.O. Box 2680, Conway NH 03813, he said.
Paul Mayer, president of the White Mountain Board of Realtors, said his group has been questioning for months whether the town has the authority to ban short-term rentals.
Last October, the board of Realtors commissioned a report from Mark Puffer, a real estate expert at Preti Flarity Law Firm, to review Conway’s proposed articles.
“It questioned the town’s right to ban or regulate them under current N.H. law. New Hampshire law for STRs are found in NH RSA 48:A and 78:A,” said Mayer. “Where they are defined as a single-family house or dwelling that is offered for a fee and for less than 30 consecutive days, those short-term rentals are residential uses and required to pay rooms and meals tax. Nowhere does N.H. law state that a town can ban or regulate them.”
Mayer hopes the issue won’t have to be settled in the courts.
“We should be focused on affordable housing, addressing the disorderly vacation rentals with the noise ordinance and existing laws, and protecting our image as a tourist destination, not fighting our neighbors in court,” he said.
Mayer, who is not a town resident, said he may watch today’s meeting online. “The White Mountain Board has not sent anything out to the membership regarding the meeting,” said Mayer. “But think a lot of Conway residents are waking up to what has happened in the town. From my interactions, more people were voting for affordable housing than voting to ban STRs.”