Hudson City Council weighs regulation of short-term rental properties

Legislators review proposal, asks administration to address multiple issues

Phil Keren
Kent Weeklies
Hudson City Council recently reviewed a proposal to regulate short-term rentals. The administration will now address issues raised by council and will return to legislators with another report on Jan. 12.

HUDSON — Council is mulling the regulation of short-term rental properties after many residents voiced concerns about a party in October at a home on Windsor Road that was being used as a short-term rental. 

The city does not currently regulate short-term rentals such as Airbnbs and VRBOs

City solicitor Matt Vazzana on Dec. 8 presented a proposal to regulate short-term rentals through the city's business regulations. In the hour-long discussion, council raised a lot of issues that the administration said it will address at an upcoming meeting.

Council president Bill Wooldredge (at-large) said the administration needed to "respond to a lot of these questions" raised by the legislators.

City manager Jane Howington said she appreciated the "really thoughtful conversation and questions" shared by council, and noted the feedback would help the administration as it researches the issue.

"We'll do some more work on this," said Howington, who noted the administration will plan to return to council with a follow-up report on Jan. 12.

The legislation on regulation of short-term rentals that was discussed Dec. 8 is scheduled for a second reading at the council meeting on Dec. 15.

On a related issue, legislation to impose a 180-day temporary moratorium prohibiting the operation of short-term residential rentals (less than 30 days) was scheduled to appear before council on Dec. 15. If they wish, council could vote on the moratorium Dec. 15. At press time on Dec. 14, it was not known whether council would take action or not.

Vazzana said implementing a moratorium on short-term rentals was proposed so officials would have time to craft the regulations they're working on. He noted if council wanted to enact a moratorium, now would be the time to do so.

Council member Hal DeSaussure (at-large) said he did not favor a moratorium. He said some short-term rental operators may have already made commitments and added he wanted to put the "onus" on city leaders to finalize regulations sooner.

Council member Skylar Sutton (Ward 3) said he wants to protect the neighborhoods from disturbances, but noted the city has eight VRBO properties and there has been problems with two.

"There's six [properties] out there who haven't been causing a problem and I don't want to rip the rug out from underneath them," said Sutton.

A look at the administration's short-term rental proposal

On Dec. 8, Vazzana said city leaders felt the regulation of short-term rentals should be handled "within the business regulation code" rather than the zoning regulations.

"We felt that the zoning issue to a certain extent is already decided," said Vazzana. "We've mapped out the zoning map from the standpoint of where we allow residential uses vs. commercial uses. Here [short-term rentals are] a residential use and people are operating essentially an occupancy for profit out of that residential use."

Some of the key components of the proposal are:

• Anyone who wants to operate a short-term rental must submit an application for a permit to the community development director or his/her designee. If the application is approved, it would take effect the day it's issued and would expire on Dec. 31 of the year following the year it was issued.

• Bed and breakfast establishments will not be subject to the short-term regulations if they were already operating before this legislation is approved and as long as they did not cease operations for more than 90 straight days.

• The proposal does not list how much the permit application fee would cost. Howington said that part of the proposal was intentionally left blank because the administration wanted council to offer their thoughts on the matter.

• Short-term rental hosts must provide their guests with the contact information of someone who is located within 10 miles of the site who can address guest concerns. The occupancy is limited to two people per bedroom. Parking is limited to the number of vehicles that can be pulled into a garage, plus two vehicles in the driveway. A short-term rental host must have liability insurance with at least $300,000 in coverage.

• Vazzana said the permit can be suspended and/or revoked if "[the operator is] found to be perpetuating conditions interfering with the use and enjoyment of properties within the short-term rental vicinity." Examples of those conditions are noise disturbances, nuisances, drug offenses, disorderly conduct and too many vehicles parked at the site.

• For a first violation, the permit is terminated and the short-term rental host would not be allowed to re-apply for a new permit for six months. For a second violation, the permit is terminated and the host would not be allowed to re-apply for one year. For a third violation, the permit is terminated and the host is prohibited from ever re-applying for a new permit.

• The fine for a first offense on operating a short-term rental without a permit is $500 and the fine for a second and subsequent offenses is $1,000.

Council members offer thoughts

Community development director Greg Hannan said a traditional bed and breakfast operation "is permitted as a use by right in the …downtown district. It is a conditional use in the residential districts."

Sutton said if someone wanted to have a traditional bed and breakfast operation in a residential district, they go through a zoning process where residents can "weigh in" at a public forum. For the short-term rental permit application process currently proposed, Sutton noted, "there is no community input before we're authorizing a permit."

"Somewhere in this process we have to have community input before the permit is issued," said Sutton.

Vazzana said a blended approach between business and zoning regulations is a possibility and noted city leaders could look at possibly adding a public hearing step to the proposed regulations.

"I'd be happy to explore ways of amending what we're looking at right now to incorporate the ideas you have," said Vazzana.

Sutton said he felt the public input process was needed as it already exists with a bed and breakfast operation.

"On some level, as a city we've already said, 'sure, you can operate a bed and breakfast in the city as long as your neighbors are OK with it," said Sutton. "I don't see why we shouldn't be saying the same thing for short-term rentals."

The city's existing regulations state the proprietor of a bed and breakfast operation must be on-site. DeSaussure said if this definition is broadened to say the proprietor does not have to be on-site, a short-term rental operator would have to apply for a conditional use permit from the board of zoning and building appeals just like the owner of a traditional bed and breakfast has to do now.

"That's the way you get public comment," said DeSaussure."…The only way you're going to get public input is if you treat it as a zoning issue."

He also observed that, if short-term rentals are treated as "a conditional use, we don't have to have all [these proposed business regulations]." DeSaussure explained one of the terms of the conditional use could be that an operator is not allowed to have parties or anything else that violates existing ordinances. 

The way it's currently proposed by the administration, DeSaussure said, short-term rentals are "more favored than" bed and breakfasts. 

He added he felt the appeal of a short-term rental permit revocation should go before the BZBA instead of the city manager.

Under the proposed business regulations, Foster said, the permit is "non-transferable" in situations when the property is sold to another owner. Foster said he would like to see the non-transferability of the permit remain if the city decides to use an approach that combines business and zoning regulations.

Wooldredge said he favors a larger fine for anyone who operates a short-term rental without a permit and noted he would like to see the permit suspension appeal process have a step that goes "beyond" the city manager.

Council member Beth Bigham (Ward 4) pointed out the city also needs to address situations where residents rent out their home for a one-time event rather than doing this as an ongoing business.

Vazzana said he can also look at implementing an appeal process with one of the city's boards. He also noted the permit, if issued, would be good for two years and is non-transferable from one owner to another.

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at pkeren@thebeaconjournal.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.