2014-07-17 / Around Town

EDITORIAL

The Summer of Stealth Rentals

With a plethora of online options to choose from, renting a house, a room, an apartment, or a condo in Newport has never been easier. And by the looks of things, never quite so popular.

Whether through websites like HomeAway.com or mobile apps like AirBnB, at any given time upwards of 300 properties in Newport are being actively marketed for short- and long-term rentals. Some are investment homes owned by out-of-towners and others are being offered by local Newporters simply trying to defray the cost of living in one of the most beautiful – albeit expensive – places to live in the area.

To be sure, the opportunity to connect property owners directly with prospective vacationers is transforming the way people travel and rent homes.

Unfortunately, with any new technology, there also come challenges.

Over the last several weeks, we’ve heard of numerous complaints related to weekly and even nightly rental parties causing disruptions along Lower Thames Street and to a lesser extent in and around Historic Hill.

The problem is that Newport has a strict moratorium on weekly rentals, a policy that was put into place following years of problems associated with rowdy visitors who tended to treat the city as more of a drunken playground than the community it is.

In recent years, the city has made great strides in cracking down on these so-called party houses and Newport’s elected leaders have spoken proudly of their efforts to maintain the peace. However, if recent weeks are any indication, that progress is now being threatened.

So too is our hospitality industry.

For four brief months of the year, innkeepers and hotel owners rely on a steady stream of nightly visitors to sustain their business for the year. And while it may be too soon to determine exactly what kind of effect the ascendance of private online booking sites like AirBnB might be having on their bottom lines, it is nevertheless easy to foresee at least a slow erosion in market share.

On one hand, we should be grateful that Newport remains such an attractive place to visit and that demand for rental property remains high. We should also be aware that summer rental income is an important factor for many homeowners who may otherwise struggle to live here.

On the other hand, we mustn’t lose sight of the long term.

Under city ordinance, homeowners who engage in weekly rentals are required to register with the city or be subject to a stiff fine.

Inevitably, party houses require more police and city attention; they can have negative impacts on property values for nearby homes and contribute to a general blight which ultimately will just end up costing taxpayers more in the future.

With that in mind, and with just about half of the season still in front of us, let’s be mindful of our neighbors and pay attention to our neighborhoods. If you happen to live next to a house or apartment that’s being let out on a weekly or nightly basis, say something to your neighbor, the police, or landlord.

Nobody wants to be the “bad guy,” but nobody should have to live next door to an overgrown fraternity house either.

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