Stonington presses pause on short-term rentals, says it won’t rush regulations

Stonington presses pause on short-term rentals, says it won’t rush regulations


STONINGTON — The Planning Department will not be taking any action on short-term rentals at this time and has decided to monitor the issue for a while before deciding on a course of action going forward.

Director of Planning Jason Vincent said the decision came after the Planning and Zoning Commission checked with the town attorney and decided short-term rentals are not regulated through the town’s zoning code. The department also learned that many of the 15-plus complaints it received last year regarding Airbnb and Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO) in town did not include documentation to support the complaint.

Vincent said that considering the volume of activity, many of the complaints turned out to be about something other than just short-term rentals. From what they learned, there were sometimes other issues at play, often involving people or neighbors who didn’t get along or who believed that the rentals were not complying with town rules and should be penalized.

“If we did something now, like create some sort of ordinance, we could potentially be creating a law based on perception rather than on reality,” he said. “We have heard some anecdotal stories and some of them didn’t prove to be true. What we are looking to do now is monitor the activity so we’re aware of what’s going on, can start collecting data and can react to data instead of assumptions.”

At the moment, complaints about short-term rentals are not being acted upon.

Vincent said that he recently had a meeting with Police Chief Darren Stewart, who said he hasn’t heard of any problems and that no one has attributed any of their calls to the department to issues with short-term rentals.

“We’ve received two legitimate complaints, while the bulk of them were from one person who felt short-term rentals were violating town rules,” Vincent said. “The topic has been given a lot of attention in the community and so we will be giving more attention to it but will not be taking any action until we have better data.”

First Selectman Rob Simmons said he’s keeping an open mind about short-term rentals and that it’s a question that needs to be discussed further. Simmons and his wife, Heidi, have a condo in Vermont that they rent out on a short-term basis when they are not using it.

“There are arguments on both sides and I don’t think anybody wants to see an abuse of the privilege,” he said. “The main question in my mind is, do we need to regulate this? I think the Board of Selectmen will discuss this at some point in the future.”

At the moment, no organization or commission in town is proposing an ordinance to regulate short-term rentals.

Bob Hannon, organizer of the Stonington Short Term Renters Association, said that at the moment, the group is comfortable self-regulating and feels that the online platforms of Airbnb and VRBO allow landlords to adequately vet tenants before they rent to them.

“We don’t see any issues right now and it turns out that the majority of the issues we’ve heard about noise and having too many people stay at these properties haven’t even involved short-term rentals,” he said. “I have yet to encounter an issue and I’ve been doing this for two years. We’re looking for them but haven’t found any yet.”

If the Board of Selectmen decides it wants to design an ordinance to regulate short-term rentals, Hannon said the association would want to work with them to make sure it’s in everyone’s best interest. At this point, the group doesn’t feel an ordinance is necessary, as there haven’t been any incidences of damage to property or excessive noise.

“If the selectmen think it’s warranted, we want to be a part of the conversation,” he said. “This issue is probably not going away and we certainly don’t want there to be an incident, so we are using the review system on the Airbnb and VRBO websites to self-regulate and make sure we are renting to people with excellent reviews.”

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