Opinion: Proposed state mandate on short-term rentals is not right for New Hampshire
One-size-fits-all SB 249 would strip localities of oversight
Editor’s note: This article was submitted by officials of several municipalities in New Hampshire.
We are a group of city and town officials from all over New Hampshire with something in common: All of us are dealing with the effects of short-term rental properties. These are typically single-family homes rented on a nightly or weekly basis, often marketed on platforms like Airbnb and VRBO.
Some homeowners use these platforms to rent a bedroom in their principal residence, or to rent their house to carefully screened guests when they go away for a few weeks or months. This rarely creates a problem for anyone.
Increasingly, however, short-term rentals are in houses operated by investors — or even hotel chains, such as Marriott — and used entirely as lodging for tourists. Under these circumstances, they are the same as hotels or bed and breakfast establishments. These are not residential uses.
That’s fine in the proper setting and when subjected to reasonable regulations that balance the rights of property owners with the concerns of residents, which is exactly what we are working to do. At the local level, we have used various measures, such as limiting where short-term rentals are allowed; limiting them to owner-occupied houses in some areas; limiting how many days a year a house may be rented; requiring registration with the town; requiring safety inspections; and imposing limits on occupancy and parking.
But legislation filed this year would strip local government of this authority and leave us without options.
Senate Bill 249 would prohibit local zoning ordinances from regulating the location of short-term rentals. This statewide mandate does not take into account the different circumstances in different communities, and it removes decision-making from the government closest to the residents who are directly affected by the proliferation of short-term rentals.
Local government officials are properly situated to respond to the concerns of citizens and balance the many nuances of the short-term rental business industry through local regulation, including zoning, just as they do with other uses of property. And, when dealing with a relatively new and continually evolving industry like short-term rentals, local officials must be nimble in order to be attentive to their constituents in a timely and effective manner. SB 249 would not allow for this, leaving local officials with no meaningful options.
Municipalities are allowed to restrict uses that are far less disruptive to communities. A local zoning ordinance may restrict the location of a bed and breakfast, an antique shop, a home office — even a single-family residence. This is because zoning, at its most fundamental level, is the separation of different uses of property for the safety, health and welfare of the community at large. We are not seeking “bans” on short-term rentals, but we are seeking appropriate ways to incorporate them into our communities, rather than allowing them to overrun our communities. SB 249 would put an end to those efforts.
Importantly, we have also seen the effects that short-term rental investments have on the affordable housing stock in our cities and towns. It is difficult to understand legislation like SB 249 in the context of the many other housing-related bills in the legislature this year that seek to encourage, incentivize, and increase affordable housing for New Hampshire families and the workforce.
In support of SB 249, we have heard comments that short-term rental properties and residential housing exist in “two different markets.” But in popular tourist destinations like ours, we have seen properties that once housed residents become, not surprisingly, more attractive as income-generating businesses. Without regulation, this is a problem that will only frustrate efforts to increase housing in our state.
This one-size-fits all approach is not right for New Hampshire. Please contact your legislators today and urge them to oppose SB 249.
This article was signed by officials in the towns of Dummer, Freedom, Hanover, Laconia, Lebanon and Portsmouth as well as the Gunstock Acres Village Water District.