LEDYARD — After extensive discussion at a public hearing, the Zoning Commission unanimously approved a zoning regulation for short term rentals that will require the owner of the building to live on the premises, a practice known as hosting.
“We didn’t think the ordinance was terrible, it just didn’t have the teeth necessary in zoning,” said Juliet Hodge, town planner at the commission’s Jan. 13 meeting.
She said the new zoning regulation is more specific than the ordinance and will give the town opportunities to stop nuisance short term rentals using faster methods than taking legal action.
“You can always bring somebody in for a hearing and you can threaten to take away their permit. You can work with the staff and work with them to bring them into compliance. But, that ability to issue a cease and desist and then the ability to cite then fine them and then to accumulate fines, is powerful,” she said.
The town’s two-year ordinance is set to expire at the end of February. The ordinance required the property owner to apply for a permit for a short term rental, but not all property owners did and there was no penalty for not doing so. According to CT Examiner reporting, the town had three properties with a permit and eight that were advertising on AirBNB without a permit.
Those who obtained a permit to run a short term rental under the current ordinance will be regulated under the ordinance until the permit expires, Hodge said. After that, the owner will need to apply for a special permit to operate.
Jim Harwood, who lives next to one of the houses where the owner never applied for a permit, said he supported the zoning regulation because the way the ordinance was structured, the only penalty was to revoke the permit.
He said beginning in April last year, 30 to 40 people at a time had rented the three-bedroom house next door as an AirBNB even though the ordinance limited the number of renters to six people at a time. He said the owner was absent and had not applied for a permit.
“It was probably three times a week, a party house till four in the morning till five in the morning and then they get up again at eight o’clock and start drinking and continuing on,” he said. “They make noise all night. They make noise early in the morning. And there are about six different houses in the neighborhood that have submitted complaints over the last six and eight months.”
But Molly Barnett, who owns two rentals in Ledyard with her father Rob Barnett, said the biggest issue was enforcement rather than whether owners apply for a permit or not. She asked the commission to take more time to consider a solution.
“I’d like to point out that it sounds like this is not really a two sided issue. It’s more of an agreement that we do need enforcement [for] those houses that are not bothering to follow any of the rules. There should be something done about that and I’m not sure what that is. But this proposal does not address that. All this current proposal does is add more rules that the rule breakers are not going to follow. So I just would also say that maybe we should reconsider a different direction here.”
Nate Weiss, a resident, said that while enforcement is the biggest issue to solve, he wasn’t convinced that the concept of the hosted rental was a workable solution.
The initiator of the ordinance, Eric Treaster, said the hosted short term rental regulation will help when neighbors experience issues because breaking the rules will have consequences.
“It also makes it much much easier to enforce because zoning issues cease and desist orders and a violation of a cease and desist order is a criminal matter. It’s a felony. And I have never seen someone ignore a cease and desist order. It’s far more powerful than an ordinance,” he said.
A separate regulation will be needed for non-hosted short term rentals, said Katie Scanlon, vice chair of the commission.
The regulation also does not address the issue of companies buying properties to use for short term rentals, taking away available housing, concerns that the commission and town staff wanted to solve, said Hodge.
“That is a huge issue and we were struggling with, well, what if somebody lives in Groton but owns a house in Ledyard? They probably would be responsible and nearby, should they need to be called,” she said. “We just couldn’t get to a point that we weren’t going to run into some legal issues, so that’s something we could certainly explore but not tonight. It would represent too big of a change.”