WESTERLY — A proposed ordinance aimed at regulating short-term house rentals will remain on the drawing board after the Town Council received a host of new comments from property owners engaged in the practice.
On Monday, the council voted 7-0 not to move the proposed ordinance ahead for a public hearing after councilors listened to several speakers, including a lawyer and business representative, and decided they should continue working on the ordinance. A few of the speakers offered to work with the council in a workshop setting to offer ideas on crafting an ordinance intended to make it easier for officials to deal with noise and other complaints arising from short-term rental properties.
Thomas J. Liguori Jr., a lawyer representing Randall Realtors, said real estate agencies serve as listing agents for cottages that are rented in Misquamicut during the summer. The agencies have developed rental agreements that identify the number of tenants and vehicles, Liguori said. If the agreements are violated, the agencies and police can be contacted to enforce the agreements, he said.
In addition to representing Randall Realtors, Liguori said he had discussed the ordinance with Stanton Realty, one of the other agencies that handles short-term rental properties in Misquamicut.
"They believe that an additional workshop at which they would participate where they could provide strategies and conditions they've included in rental agreements would be an important contribution for an ordinance which works," Liguori said.
During a previous meeting, residents complained that short-term renters disrupt neighborhoods with parties, excessive noise, and other problems.
As currently written, the proposed ordinance suggests short-term rentals will be permitted in all parts of town, Liguori said.
"That's a serious issue that should be discussed," Liguori said, noting that bed and breakfasts are only allowed on parts of specific streets in the town.
A handful of property owners who rent their houses out on a short-term basis questioned aspects of the proposed ordinance and suggested it would have the effect of punishing good-faith operators and saddling them with new fees on top of property, sales and hotel taxes.
"It looks reactive and punitive," said Fred Buffum, whose family has provided long- and short-term rentals for decades in Weekapaug.
Buffum said he makes a concerted effort to ensure his renters are respectful of the neighborhood.
"We specialize in quiet stays. If there is any noise they are removed. That is our business — families come for nice, quiet vacations. This ordinance is very harmful to us and our business," Buffum said.
Services such as Airbnb allow property owners to screen potential renters, said Kathryn O'Connor, who makes her Old Post Road property available for short-term renting. "We use a very rigorous process to make make sure they are OK for quiet vacation time," O'Connor said.
Ron Altieri, who uses his Watch Hill Road house for short-term rentals, asked the council to consider the positive effect the industry has on the tourism economy. Renters, he said, go to local restaurants and other businesses and attractions.
"Think about the revenue this brings in," Altieri said.
One resident, Tamara Tarpinian-Jachym, encouraged the council to adopt an ordinance, saying she is frequently annoyed and bothered by renters in Misquamicut.
"We want some peace and quiet and safety," Tarpinian-Jachym said.
While residents deserve the ability to quietly enjoy their property, Lisa Konicki, president of the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce, said the current version of he ordinance might miss the mark.
"Adding another fee and creating another layer of bureaucracy and financial culpability for these enterprises may not be the right way to approach this issue," Konicki said.
Konicki asked for consideration of a system that punishes the owners of short-term rentals where problems occur. She also said the chamber is willing to participate in a future workshop on the topic.
Councilor Philip Overton said the council should continue working on an ordinance to strike a balance between those who provide short-term rentals and those who do not.
"We want to keep Westerly a nice place to live and we want to be good to our business community ... we also want to make sure that the costs of managing this issue are covered," Overton said.
Councilor Karen Cioffi agreed to continue working on the ordinance but stressed the number of complaints that she has received from people saying short-term renters were disturbing their neighborhoods.
Councilor Brian McCuin made a similar point.
"I want everyone to remember what we heard [earlier] — the harm that is done to people who are not renting out their houses. They're just living their lives. Unfortunately, we're going to have to put some controls in," McCuin said.