P&Z WATCH: Short Term Rental Reg Considered, C/O and Parking Would be Required

Tuesday’s P&Z meeting included a discussion about regulating short term rentals, including those through AirBnb and VRBO.

Currently the town does not define short term rentals, which means they are de facto permitted.

The regulation would define and restrict short-term rentals and address parking.

Most of the complaints the zoning enforcement staff receive are about rentals in multi-family dwellings, but there are also complaints about increases in traffic and number of parked cars, as well as complaints about renting out of inappropriate structures such as garden sheds.

16 Prospect Drive. Dec 16, 2020

Commissioner Nick Macri said the requirement for a certificate of occupancy should be clarified.

“Having a C/O doesn’t mean the area rented is necessarily safe, such as a basement.”

Mr. Macri said any space should be proper, habitable and safe.

“We know we have a lot of them around,” said P&Z director Katie DeLuca. “This was prompted by problems with short term rentals in one neighborhood in particular – in district 7.”

This was likely a reference to a situation on Prospect Drive in 2020. (P&Z Watch: Neighbors Oppose Basement Bedroom on Prospect Drive March 2020)

“I don’t think these regulations would necessarily solve what happened in that particular instance, but it is important to define them, and to define what they are not, and to establish the zoning regulations,” DeLuca said. “They are not opportunities for renting out homes for wedding venues or big events.”

Municipalities across the country use a variety of techniques to control short term rentals, including: A. Durational caps on rentals; B. Caps on the number of days property may be rented during the year; C. Density controls; D. special permit requirements; E. Parking requirements; F. Neighbor notification; G. Establishing a registration system; H. Owner-occupancy requirements; and I. Distinguishing between single-family, multifamily, and mixed-use neighborhoods.

Ms Alban said at a land use legal seminar attended by several commissioners, an item of note concerned a superior court decision about a ZBA decision, Wihbey vs Pine Orchard Association  in Branford. That decision noted that since the regulations had been silent on short term rentals, they de facto were allowing them. She said that decision could be appealed to supreme court.

“The important thing for us is that this says if your regulations have been silent, you can’t all of a sudden forbid (short term rentals),” Alban continued. “Interestingly, we do know that some communities in Connecticut did decide to go ahead and forbid them.”

She said some communities in Connecticut were out and out forbidding short term rentals. Others were “wide open and do whatever you want.”

She said Hartford, for example, imposed strict requirements for licensing short term rentals.

Similarly a coastal community with active summer tourism also regulates short term rentals.

“It may make sense to them because as part of their reputation, that their facilities be licensed, because it’s their name. Everyone goes there this summer and they feel it’s part of their hotel system, if you will,” Alban said.

Alban said Greenwich would opt for the least amount of regulation.

“We could forbid them,” DeLuca said. “That’s not particularly relevant since that’s not what we’re proposing. However, the distinction is the ones already in play would be allowed to continue…under the grandfathering laws.”

“It becomes an existing nonconformity,” Alban said.

Ms DeLuca said she did not think the process of identifying existing short term rentals was a good use of the P&Z staff time.

Wyn McDaniel, chair of RTM district 7, said her district was particularly impacted by short term rentals.

“I think we need some form of a guideline. I’d like to have something more in line with some of the other communities that require short term rentals to be registered with the town. They even pay a fee and there are penalties if you don’t abide.”

She said she thought requiring a certificate of occupancy was a good start and it would leave open the possibility of tightening up guidelines in the future.

Mary Jenkins said she has personal experience with short term abuses in her neighborhood.

“…there can be a very concentrated form of short term rental operation. It begins to look like a business and feel like a business in terms of competing with bed and breakfasts and other lodging facilities that have a settled and residential feeling.”

“I don’t want to increase bureaucracy, …but at some point there needs to be some investigation on the quasi-commercial use of short term rentals,” Jenkins said. “When it hits a small neighborhood it has a very dramatic effect.”

Ms Jenkins asked whether someone is in affordable housing could then turn it into a profit-making short term rental opportunity?

“They’re not supposed to,” Alban said.

Alban said there are 2.5 people doing enforcement inspections in Greenwich where there are 24,000 dwelling units and  63,000 inhabitants, and that it is helpful when residents contact P&Z about issues.

Ms DeLuca said in her budget proposal she was requesting an additional full time and additional part time enforcement officer.

“I think it’s severely understaffed based on the level of service people would like to see. They have to triage constantly.”

The item was left open. In the meantime, P&Z is working with the town’s risk manager and building official to ensure Greenwich has proper language in any possible new regulation so the town is covered from a standpoint of liability.

Possible text amendment:

Section 6-5(43.4) Short term Residential Rental –The temporary rental of part or all of a residential property for fewer than 30 consecutive nights at a time. This is permitted in all Zones, provided that:

1.The Short-term rental is in a structure with a Certificate of Occupancy for a dwelling unit. Short-term rental of accessory units approved under Section 6-99 of the building zone regulations is not permitted.

2.The Short-term rental shall only be used for lodging-type uses. Non lodging uses, including, but not limited to, parties, receptions, weddings, filming, photo shoots, corporate retreats and fundraisers, shall not be allowed.

Also, “short-term rentals” would be added to Parking and Garages for Residential purposes (see bold). By including Short term rental in Section 6-154, it would be clear that there must be adequate parking.

Sec. 6-154. On lots used for single-family residence purposes, short-term rentals, or for boarding or rooming houses, sufficient garage space or outdoor parking space shall be provided to accommodate the passenger cars used by the residents of such premises. (6/1/2017)

See also:

Workshop on Short Term Rentals in Greenwich Focuses on Pros & Cons; Proposed SB 1025 State Legislation March 2021