During a Greenwich P&Z workshop on Thursday, P&Z director Katie DeLuca said rentals for 30 days or less have proliferated in town.
Based on a look at VRBO and Airbnb she said there were roughly 300 short term rentals out of around 15,000 residential units in town.
Complaints about short term rentals have focused on traffic, parking, and renting of inappropriate structures.
P&Z commission chair Margarita Alban said generally the short term rentals work smoothly but there have been incidents reported to the police.
“There have been fights outside. There have been parties,” Alban said, adding that there was one incident involving a house without a certificate of occupancy. “It was a mess.”
“Talk about losing our sense of place. Especially now in downtown Greenwich, we’re talking about moderate income housing, but we’re promoting something that decreases the (supply) of long term stable housing for people of moderate means.”Doreen Pearson, owner, Stanton House Inn
“We had the famous scenario where someone tried to rent out a garden shed,” DeLuca said. “Most of the calls stem from rentals in multi family dwellings as opposed to single family zones.”
Right now two relevant sections in Greenwich’s regs have to do with boarders and boarding houses:
• 6-95(4) ‘The keeping of not more than two (2) roomers or boarders by a resident family only in a detached single family dwelling, exclusive of employees on the premises.’
• 6-5 (43) defines a rooming house as a dwelling in which rooms for living purposes are rented for compensation to five (5) or more persons other than the members of the family of the proprietor. This use is permitted in the R6 zone only.
Wyn McDaniel, chair of RTM District 7 said she thought the town should, at minimum, establish guidelines for operators.
She reported hearing complaints involving off street parking, people coming and going at all hours of the night, and children not being able to ride their bikes due to additional traffic.
“It’s an accident waiting to happen,” she added.
DeLuca said there were a number of potential steps the town could take address short term rentals including durational caps, caps on the number of days a property can be rented a year, density controls, special permit requirements, parking requirements, and neighbor notification, she recommended, for now, that Greenwich start by creating a definition of a short term rental, then wait to see the outcome of proposed legislation at the state level.
The proposed state legislation for short term rentals, SB 1025 is 7th on the agenda for a public hearing of the CT General Assembly’s Planning & Development Committee on Monday March 15.
(SB 1025 follows the controversial SB 1024 which is the proposed legislation based on the platform of DeSegregate CT.)
SB 1025, would require licensing, neighbor notification, insurance coverage per the Insurance Commissioner, permit towns to impose a short-term rental tax on operators, in addition to a sales & use tax.
Ms McDaniel described the state legislation as “very restrictive,” but noted there was no guarantee it would be approved.
“I think we should do what is right for Greenwich,” McDaniel said, mentioning licensing and neighbor notification specifically.
“On the one hand, Hartford is looking at clamping down on AirBnb, but on the other hand accessory apartments will be totally freed.”Margarita Alban, Greenwich Planning and Zoning Commission chair
During the workshop there was talk about requiring operators to complete an application through P&Z if their rental required on street parking for guests. At that point neighbor notification would be required.
It was noted that processing applications requires P&Z staff.
Enforcement of restrictions would also requires staff.
DeLuca said P&Z staff are already stretched thin.
Besides, complaints often arise in the evening when P&Z staff have long since gone home. Short term rental complaints are handled by Greenwich Police, just like any other complaint.
Ms Alban said that once certifications are required, the Health Dept would be involved. She wondered what infrastructure would be necessary to implement the state legislation.
The group also discussed whether an ordinance might require that short term rentals be owner occupied.
Mary Flynn, a Greenwich real estate agent, pointed out that short term, one month, and summer rentals are already on the Multiple Listing Service.
Doreen Pearson, who owns Stanton House Inn, a traditional B&B, said her inn is regularly inspected for water backflow and the fire suppression system. The Health Dept inspects the kitchen. They pay a license fee for the subject of each inspection. Their swimming pool is also licensed and inspected and a fee is charged.
“It’s not an even playing field at all,” she said, noting she has fixed costs that Airbnb operators do not. “Yet we have people all the time trying to negotiate with us against the price of an Airbnb they’re getting downtown.”
Pearson said she had researched Charlestown, South Carolina where short term vacation rental operators have been buying up properties in historic neighborhoods, resulting in a diminished supply of long term housing for residents.
“Talk about losing our sense of place,” Pearson said. “Especially now, in downtown Greenwich, we’re talking about moderate income housing, but we’re promoting something that decreases the (supply) of long term stable housing for people of moderate means.”
A recent article in MarketWatch said, “For renters and home buyers alike, Airbnb is contributing to the affordability crunch seen in many housing markets across the country. Airbnb diminishes the supply of long term rentals and drives up their prices.”
MarketWatch quoted Airbnb who countered that ‘Countless families depend on Airbnb to pay their rent and stay in their homes, which has become even more important amidst the current crisis.’
Stacey Loh from the Greenwich Association of Realtors said that short term rentals allowed people to sample the town and many people have chosen to make it a permanent home after short term stays. She said the short term rentals had created economic vitality as well as income and services to the community.
“It’s a low cost alternative to hotels, which are not suitable to everybody,” Loh said.
Ms Alban said short term rentals allow homeowners to age in place, and help people who go from dual income to single income stay in their homes.
Alban said there will be business owners who oppose short term rentals in principle because it represented competition.
Ms DeLuca said Stamford was working on a restrictive zoning ordinance requiring licensing, zoning board approval, and proper insurance. The period of stay would be between 1-29 consecutive days, but no more than 90 calendar days in total. The operator/owner would be required to reside on the property.
Hartford already has strict rules in place, including requiring a permit, limitations to frequency and rental length, owner-occupancy, max number of guests, and consequences for rentals that become a nuisance to neighbors. They limit stays to no more than 21 cumulative days during any 6 month period, and no more than 3 times during any 6 month period. No more than four adults, in addition to related minor children, may use a single dwelling unit as a short-term rental at the same time, and there are minimum amounts of square feet required per person. (Office of Legislative Research)
Ms Alban noted the irony of Hartford proposing the sweeping statewide zoning regulations in SB 1024 that would make accessory dwelling units (ADUs) “as of right” while at the same time imposing heavy regulations on their own short term rentals and requiring permits.
“On the one hand, Hartford is looking at clamping down on Airbnb, but on the other hand accessory apartments will be totally freed,” Alban said.