BERLIN – Town leaders continued their discussion of short-term rental regulations this week.
On Monday, Mayor Zack Tyndall and the Berlin Town Council reviewed draft short-term rental regulations developed after prior discussions. While opinions still vary, particularly regarding owner occupancy, Mayor Zack Tyndall said the ordinance was moving ahead.
“There’s a time and a place for us to be able to sort that out,” he said. “I think we’ve got a pretty good idea of the main components that need to be in a short-term rental ordinance. Hopefully in January if not February we can be looking at something that’s crafted and ready for this body to entertain as well as a public hearing on that as well.”
When the council last discussed the town’s proposed short-term rental ordinance in September, members of the public shared concerns about rental properties they’ve had in their neighborhoods. This week, commenters spoke on the benefits of short-term rentals offered through platforms like Airbnb and VRBO. Resident John Watson said he thought the town was on the right track by regulating short-term rentals but that he definitely wanted to see them permitted in town.
“I think anything that promotes our community and promotes our town is a good thing in general,” he said, adding that Airbnb had a lot of requirements of its own that were imposed on listed properties.
Watson added problems were just as likely to be created by permanent residents as by short-term visitors.
“Let’s keep our community open to whoever would like to come here,” he said.
Watson added rather than require that a short-term rental be someone’s permanent residence per state records, the town could limit short-term rental properties to one per person.
Gabrielle Sargent told the council she didn’t live in town but that she and her husband had purchased property in Berlin that they were planning to use as a short-term rental.
“The opportunity to be able to have a short-term rental is what allows us to pay for the house,” she said.
She said visitors would spend money in town and only came because they appreciated the town’s quaintness. Sargent said the regulations the town was proposing, which include inspections and a local contact to handle issues, would be sufficient to address potential problems. She said if there were violations or complaints the town could simply not renew a property’s short-term rental license.
Councilman Dean Burrell said he was interested in seeing short-term rentals limited to one per person as Watson suggested. He said he wanted to prevent someone from buying a block of homes with the intention of making them all short-term rentals.
David Gaskill, the town’s attorney, said limiting the number of rental licenses in town was shaky ground.
“People have property rights,” he said.
Colin Zimmerman of the Coastal Association of REALTORS encouraged the town to start small.
“Solve the problems you have,” he said.
He said having the local contact would solve the majority of the problems potentially associated with short-term rentals. He said if the program wasn’t working out the council could adjust it in the future.
“Don’t start by limiting private property rights,” he said.
When asked for her input, Ivy Wells, the town’s director of economic and community development, said the town didn’t have problems with short-term rentals currently.
“We’re a solution looking for a problem,” she said, adding that the town benefitted from its “beautiful Airbnbs.”
Burrell agreed that there was not a problem right now.
“My mom used to say when it’s good it’s good and when it’s bad it’s bad,” he said. “We may be at this point looking for a solution to problem we don’t have but somewhere down the road there’s going to be a property owner come to us and complain about what’s going on next door to him or her on a regular basis. In that case we want to have what we need to handle the situation and to provide that resident with the peace and quiet he is due living here in the town.”
Staff noted there was just one situation in recent history where there had been an issue with a short-term rental.
Burrell said he’d been contacted by residents that didn’t want to see the town lose its neighborhoods.
“I do not want to see the nature and culture of our neighborhoods impacted negatively or changed tremendously by these short-term rentals,” he said.
Councilwoman Shaneka Nichols expressed similar worries. She said short-term rentals could essentially be flipped every seven days. She acknowledged the comments from those present at the meeting but pointed out that many full-time residents of the town were home taking care of their families and hadn’t been able to chime in.
“Until you can live here, this is not your home — you’re visiting,” she said.
Watson said he didn’t see a problem with houses seeing new residents every seven days. He said he lived in town and didn’t want to see it saturated with Airbnbs but that he didn’t believe it ever would be because there were too many people who wanted to live in town full-time. he said regulations would help create a balance and he didn’t see a problem with a house being flipped every seven days.
“It’s another family every week that comes to our town and says I love it here, I think I might want to live here one day,” he said. “You said flipping it every seven days was a problem. I don’t see it that way as long as the people that are coming here are respectful of our community.”
Nichols asked how he knew they would be.
“You flip it enough, the problems we don’t have will arrive…,” she said. “There have to be boundaries and things put in place up front for the what if.”
Watson said the people using Airbnbs in Berlin were no different from the people renting rooms at the Atlantic Hotel. Nichols replied that the hotel was one building in a commercial district, not multiple properties spread out through town.
“That’s what the concern is,” she said.
Tyndall said the ordinance would be tweaked following Monday’s discussion and that it would be presented sometime in 2022.