I have lived in North Conway my entire life (46 years if that makes it any more relevant) as did my father and his parents before him. So, we have over 100 years of caring deeply about this community.
However, I was not aware of all the rules and regulations that accompanied my latest purchase in Kearsarge a few years ago. I have been reaching out to fellow KLP residents on both sides of the fence on the uproar over short-term rentals. What I have found are a lot of people regurgitating false information off of a fear-based campaign. I want to share some things I have learned in the hope that everyone is getting the whole picture.
Before anyone comes at me for being inaccurate, let me say the following numbers are estimates. I am trying to give an overview of what is reakky happening as opposed to what might happen should an amendment pass that allows an alternative to a ban (rentals with a conditional use permit).
To say there has been a campaign of fear against rentals in the KLP is an understatement. The emails circulating use a lot of scare tactics, which is why I am sharing what I have learned so people can make sound decisions moving forward.
OK ... here we go. Deep breaths ...
There are approximately 440 properties within the KLP. Of those, about half are second homes. And of those, approximately 80-100 are rented to offset expenses and a few are used to create an income.
Most of the vacation rental properties are in two condo associations, which have covenants that allow short-term rentals and predate the 1986 ordinance banning rentals.
It is important to note that the number of short-term rental properties has not exploded in the past few years. In other words, the KLP is not being overrun by people who want to make their fortune renting out their homes.
On average these properties bring in $8,000 per year in “income.” That’s 40 days a year at $200 a day. When you do the math, it becomes clear that these are not commercial operations. These homes are owned by families who live in another part of New England, want to share what we all love about the valley with their families but also offset some of the expenses by renting when they are not using the property.
I will use my home as an example. The “income” I bring in with that equation would just barely cover my property tax bill. It does not include insurance, utilities, maintenance, seasonal care expenses, etc. All of that adds up to a lot more than $8K, so I would then have to rent my home for another 40-plus days to try and break even let alone make a profit.
And for the record, no, I am not looking to rent out my home so I am not benefiting from an amendment that would regulate short-term rentals.
However, there are some problem properties, and I sympathize with the residents who must deal with them. I, too, live across the street from a property that gets rented out regularly and attracts a rowdy crew a few times a year.
We have one industry in the valley — tourism — and while the ratio of primary to second homeowners inside the KLP has remained the same for 30 years, the nature of how people travel has absolutely changed. If we close the door to rentals, these guests will stay in other resort areas where they can use popular vacation methods. I myself choose to rent a home for my family when we travel as opposed to all being stuffed into one hotel room.
One last point: The families that do not claim their property in the KLP as a primary residence are not allowed to vote and have no say on what happens inside the KLP. They pay the same taxes charged by KLP on top of the Town of Conway taxes. (Yes, the KLP has a tax we all pay to be in this municipality.) There is an active lawsuit against the KLP by second-homeowners who were served cease-and-desist orders without warning, and “we” already have over $100K in attorney fees to handle this one lawsuit. My KLP taxes went up 400 percent because of this single action. That is just ONE lawsuit.
I can’t help but think that if a short-term rental ban is actually enforced, a lot more lawsuits will be filed. Guess who pays the attorney fees to defend the KLP? The residents of the KLP. The math on this one is frightening, and it’s simply irresponsible to put this burden on our backs when there is a better alternative.
My hope is that on Jan. 21, the entire KLP will come together at John H. Fuller Elementary School at 6:30 p.m. and that we all walk in with level heads and realistic expectations of what can be done to avoid future litigation and help keep all of the families happy who own a home inside the KLP.
Short-term rentals with conditional use permits won’t open the floodgates to the KLP becoming a Route 16 hotel/commercial zone. Those doors have been open for over 25 years. Let’s come together, tackle the few bad apples (which absolutely need to be addressed), prevent future problems from arising and allow all of us to enjoy this special little part of town.
If I had to choose between 40 days of respectful renters next-door or 365 days of a hate-filled neighbor … #helloairbnb.
Victoria Noel Blake is a homeowner within the Kearsarge Lighting Precinct.