Upper Valley voters go different ways on short-term rentals

By LIZ SAUCHELLI

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-18-2024 6:30 PM

Modified: 03-20-2024 3:25 PM


ENFIELD — Upper Valley voters were divided on short-term rental ordinances during New Hampshire Town Meeting voting.

During floor meetings Saturday, Enfield and Haverhill residents turned back short-term rental ordinances.

Haverhill residents “postponed indefinitely” voting on the ordinance. Enfield voters rejected the town’s proposed ordinance by a vote of 124-117.

Meanwhile, residents in Springfield, N.H., and Sunapee approved zoning ordinances that regulate short-term rentals — commonly defined as rentals that are fewer than 30 days — during ballot voting on March 12.

In Springfield’s case, voters approved a zoning amendment that would require short-term rental owners to obtain a special exception and go through a site plan review, by a vote of 154-74.

The proposed ordinances, in some cases, have pitted owners who say they have a right to do what they want with their properties against town officials who say the ordinances help address health, safety and quality of life concerns.

“Something like this to me is kind of invasive,” said Brian Degnan, an Enfield short-term rental owner during Saturday’s meeting.

Residents questioned the need for the ordinance and asked for data to support the number of complaints town officials have received about short-term rentals during a discussion before the ordinance was voted down.

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During a presentation about the short-term rental article, Selectboard member Erik Russell said that there were around 46 active short-term rental listings in Enfield, according to data compiled by AirDNA, a company that tracks listings on Airbnb and Vrbo. Town Manager Ed Morris estimated that there were 15 to 20 complaints in the last year.

“I wouldn’t say we have an alarming amount,” he said.

Enfield’s proposed ordinance called for short-term owners to get a permit for $100 and pay $100 each year to renew it. In order to be awarded a permit, property owners would have had to undergo a building inspection, have onsite parking and ensure there was a contact person within an hour’s drive of the property in case any issues arose. There also would have been a limit of two people per bedroom — as defined by a property’s tax card — plus two additional people. The town would have required proof that the state’s room and meals tax was being paid.

“We do find it intrusive,” Mike Burns said. “By regulating it, I think it leaves an open door of more regulations in the future.”

Nancy Smith, who owns Shaker Farm Bed & Breakfast and lists some of her rooms on Airbnb, said that the ordinance was a way for the town to protect itself and the community.

“This is just not a lot to ask of people,” Smith said.

Crystal Lake resident Bob Cusick said he had concerns about the effect short-term rentals have on water quality, particularly if there are more people staying in a home that has a septic system that cannot support a large group. Last summer, swimming advisories were posted due to bacteria in the lake.

“This is going to affect me as well as people who rent,” Cusick said. “This is a good way to go before it gets out of hand.”

The vote on the proposed ordinance, which was taken using a hand count, ultimately failed by seven votes.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Upper Valley, voters opted for increasing restrictions.

In Sunapee, voters approved changes to a zoning ordinance passed in 2023. One article, which requires owners to be present if their accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are being used as short-term rentals, passed by a vote of 581-378. Another article — which, in part, capped the number of people who can stay in a rental to 16 and clarified which structures can be used as short-term rentals — passed by a vote of 627-342.

A third article, which places a 120 days per 12-month period limit on short-term rentals at properties that are not owner-occupied, passed by a vote of 546-419.

The results were not a surprise to Lisa Hoekstra, who with her husband, Peter, co-founded the Lake Sunapee Short-Term Rental Association in response to proposed short-term rental regulations in Sunapee and now represents dozens of short-term rental owners.

Hoekstra said that in the time leading up to the vote, tension between residents — particularly on social media — grew and made her think more about ways the town and short-term rental owners can find common ground.

“One of the things I came to a few days before the vote is that even if this passes, there needs to be some level of reconciliation in this town. Regardless of the way the vote went, I felt like — and I still feel like — there needs to be reconciliation because it has been … what I feel has been damaging to the town,” Hoekstra said. “I am hopeful there might be a way to find reconciliation and a middle ground.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

CORRECTION: In Town Meeting voting Tuesday, March 12, Springfield residents approved language clarifying that a short-term rental is rented for fewer than 30 consecutive days, and requiring that people who have short-term rentals obtain a special exception and site plan review in order to be granted a permit to operate. A previous version of this story incorrectly described the ordinance.