2017-01-19 / Front Page

Middletown Tightens Short-Term Rental Law

By Olga Enger

Middletown landlords are now subject to stricter regulations for rentals of six months or less.

In a 4-2 vote, the Town Council approved amendments to Chapter 98 (Short-Term Residential Leases) of the town code at the second reading during the council’s meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 17. Officials proposed the regulations after a handful of residents complained about student party houses in the Easton’s Point area this summer. The changes included parking requirements, occupancy limits, trash disposal, and collecting tenant information.

Council President Robert Sylvia and Councilors Rick Lombardi, Theresa Santos and Barbara VonVillas voted in favor. Councilor Dennis Turano recused, as he operates a short-term property on Tuckerman Avenue.

In a separate vote, councilors preliminarily approved increasing the short-term rental registration fee from $10 to $100 at the amendment’s first reading.

“I think this is a good ordinance because it’s a good start,” said Sylvia. “This is a priority because it protects the residents of Middletown. It’s the people we have to worry about across the town who have been subject to intolerable conditions. They are residents who live here and have reasonable expectations for quality of life.”

The ordinance now limits a short-term occupancy to two people per bedroom, including any children over 6 years of age. Additionally, one parking spot is required for every two individuals staying at the property. Violations of the occupancy regulations will cost landlords up to $100 per day.

Further, the landlord is required to have a property manager located within 10 miles of the property with the ability to respond to concerns. Landlords are required to collect tenants’ names, home addresses, and the model, year, color and vehicle registration for all cars.

Rentals of any length are permitted in Middletown, unlike Newport, which levies stricter regulations on landlords. In 1992, the Newport City Council responded to the complaints of party houses by passing a short-term rental ordinance that required registration of houses rented for nine months or less and restricted rentals of under 30 days.

Although various Newport councilors have proposed relaxing those provisions, the idea has failed to gain momentum over the past several years.

Some residents voiced reservations about Middletown’s new restrictions.

David Ruslow, who was a leading concerned voice about party houses, reported the problem is now resolved due to the efforts of the Middletown Police Department and Salve Regina University. He thanked the town for its efforts in gaining control of the rentals, but questioned if the ordinance was taking it too far.

“I know there is going to be a change, but a $10 fee, going up to $100? For smaller units that’s harder to absorb. The state imposed an 8 percent tax. It’s a tough business to begin with, as it fluctuates up and down.”

In 2015, the General Assembly expanded the sales and hotel taxes to include short-term rentals of residential property, including the rental of vacation homes and beach cottages. The new tax applies only to rentals of 30 days or less.

Terri Flynn, also of Easton’s Point, rents a one-bedroom unit, which has historically accommodated families up to four with its pullout couch. Under the new regulations, she is restricted to two guests.

“Short-term rentals are being taxed like hotels, and should have the same opportunities,” said Flynn. “We should have a comprehensive ordinance that covers all scenarios so we may continue to host quality guests.”

Middletown police responded to 176 noise complaints last year, which included everything from construction yard complaints to loud trucks and music at bars, said Lt. Jason Ryan. The department does not categorize the calls by the type of property, so there is no way to correlate the number of complaints by rental type.

Others worried about the cost of enforcement.

“I’m concerned about the fact that fees and taxes over the decades have gotten higher and higher and higher. Taxes have been going up every year,” said Kevin O’Halloran, who has operated a short-term rental property for over 15 years. He questioned the cost of enforcing the additional regulations.

Chris Souza, who operates four short-term rentals in Middletown, agreed.

“I have done over 300 rentals and the police have been called one time,” said Souza, who also sits on the Middletown Zoning Board. “What I worry about more than anything is the enforcement of the ordinance. There are a lot of people who are doing this who are not registered.”

Councilor Paul Rodrigues supported the concept, but questioned the sharp fee increase and the age limit of the occupants.

“How do we enforce this? It’s not really enforceable unless there is an issue. If there are no problems, why create one? Are we really penalizing local landlords?” Rodrigues asked.

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