AMESBURY — The city is considering rules to govern short-term rentals, with establishment of a licensing process as a possible first step.
Online companies such as Airbnb and Vacation Rental By Owner offer residential units for short-term stays.
Mayor Kassandra Gove and District 1 City Councilor Pam Gilday have co-sponsored two measures designed to adopt zoning bylaws that would define what a short-term rental is in Amesbury.
Angela Cleveland, the city’s director of community & economic development, said the city has no regulations governing short-term rentals.
“Right now, everything is silent on short term, unless it is lodging or a bed and breakfast,” Cleveland said.
“We don’t really have that term in our bylaws defining the term and how long that is,” she said. “The dwelling also needs to be a residential unit that is at least occupied for half of the year by the owner. This way, you don’t have investment properties that are popping up all over the city.”
A quick search of Airbnb turned up a dozen short-term rentals in Amesbury, from a “European style tiny house” at $115 per night to a four-bedroom home at $440 per night.
If approved by the City Council, the first measure would establish a licensing process for short-term leases and residential units.
“Everyone who lists a short-term rental has to list themselves with the Department of Revenue anyways,” Cleveland said. “So we already have a list of all of the folks who have short-term rentals in the city. They would also have to apply with the city to have a license, in addition to that. It really is just like any other license within the city.”
She also said the second measure would establish zoning regulations such as defining the types of units that can be used; the minimum length of stay; and residency requirements for short-term rentals.
“We don’t want people cramming five, six, seven people into one house that only fits two,” she said. “We also don’t want to have a ton of extra traffic or parking issues on our roads. We are really looking at not doing so much that it is onerous for the property owner but we also want to protect our neighborhood character.”
Cleveland said that on a recent trip to New Orleans she saw an entire block of homes which had been bought by one company looking to turn the neighborhood into a short-term rental zone.
“It would basically be a hotel,” Cleveland said. “We do recognize the need for short-term rentals. People like renting those, I like renting those myself. But, if we do this right we can manage the people who are staying there as well as how people are using their units.”
Cleveland said the city has been talking with similar communities that have already established a short-term rental policy.
She said properties would have to meet health standards, be inspected and pay an annual fee to the Affordable Housing Trust.
“We’re trying to bring it full circle so it is not just this revenue-generating fee that goes directly into the general fund. We also want this to help with housing. We want to make sure that we are not taking long-term, affordable units offline,” Cleveland said.
If a licensing process is established, then the regulations would be developed and adopted outlining the length of stay, the number of leasing agreements per year and other criteria.
The two measures were given a public hearing by the City Council on Tuesday but both items were continued until the council’s meeting Oct. 12.
Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.