Short Term Rentals: Restrictions Need Careful Thought

The Board was able to share input on recent attempts to regulate short-term rentals in Berkshire County. We are always pleased to be able to offer comments and perspectives to help strengthen homeownership and local housing regulations as they change to meet emerging needs. Every REALTOR knows first hand how both good and bad regulations can impact real people in our communities.  It is for this reason we keep tabs on the issues and rely on amazing staff at the state level to help make sure our perspectives are consistent with the REALTOR message.  We have worked with them to make sure our message is clear while a few towns consider short term rental bans and restrictions.

First, we always recognize the challenge of housing availability. We know that there is a scarcity of both year-round rental units and entry-level homes available for purchase in our town and in the larger region. This is a housing inventory problem of significant complexity that has been building for years, and we know that many of us are committed to taking a multi-faceted approach across sectors to help make our town more accessible.

While proposals might seek to prohibit the rental of second or vacation homes as short-term rentals with the intent to help increase general affordability of housing, we do not think it is the right tool to achieve that goal.

Many homes here that are used as second or vacation homes, tend to sell at price points in a range that is not at all affordable to many of our prospective first-time homebuyers. If we were to pass a bylaw prohibiting the use of second homes as short-term rentals with the hope that those homes would then return to the market for potential sale to those seeking homes, we would have a major mismatch between market price points for many of these homes and the financial capacity of many first-time or local homebuyers.

Instead, the home might be purchased as a second home by someone with the financial means to allow it to remain vacant when not in personal use. The same disconnect is true of the idea that these homes might make affordable year-round rentals; there is again a general mismatch between the potential inventory and its suitability and price points.

Because some second homeowners use income from short-term rentals towards mortgage and other payments related to their second home as a means of affording it, it seems unfair to pursue a policy that would effectively penalize this group- the proposal could potentially necessitate the sale of their homes for financial reasons. This infringement on property rights could cause serious unintended harm.  We also don’t believe that any housing regulation should change based on who the owner is, but rather that all housing use should conform to the same laws and regulations.

We know first hand that any second homeowner has the potential to become a full-time resident, now or in the future.  We value the vibrancy and diversity that all add to our community. The same can be said of our visitors and short-term renters, who are very important to sustaining our shops, restaurants, and services at the heart of our local economy and whose interest in exploring our town brings refreshing energy and enthusiasm.

Therefore, we urge towns not to prohibit the use of second or vacation homes as short-term rentals.

We have a clear interest in ensuring that all residents and visitors alike abide by town rules, including those that pertain to noise, trash, and parking, amongst others. Enforcement of our existing bylaws to protect our quality of life will ensure that we can maintain the high quality of life that we all value greatly here. The requirement included in the draft for a local contact to address any issues that may arise with a short-term rental is a smart approach to take.

We look forward to continuing this conversation and are always happy to share any resources or data that may be helpful.