2018-07-19 / Around Town

New Short-Term Rentals Categories Set

By Andy Long

Newport’s zoning code, and how it defines properties that are rented for 30 days or less, is outdated, according to city officials, especially regarding the growth of short-term rentals. The city’s Planning Board has set up the Short- Term Rental Investigatory Group to study how to modernize the code, and at its last meeting devised new terms and categories for short-term rental housing in Newport.

“I think we should just start from scratch,” said Jeff Brooks, group chair, at the July 12 meeting. “We just start at the genesis of it all. That would make it so much easier.”

Currently, buildings that offer rooms for less than 30 days are in five categories: limited guest house, where one or two rooms are rented out and the owner is on site; historic guest house, which has no more than 18 rooms and no other use is allowed without a permit; and guest house, with up to five rooms and a resident owner or representative on the premises. The two other categories pertain to hotels and timeshares, which are not part of the short-term rental market study.

“Don’t forget that when this ordinance was written in 1974 or 1980, there weren’t short-term rentals,” said Attorney Turner Scott, a member of the group. “A guest house is a B&B; that’s what it was designed for.”

Brooks proposed three new categories for Newport. One would be termed “short-term rentals,” which would be distinguished by location instead of building type or size, and be limited to the waterfront and business districts, where short-term rentals are allowed now by right, and where an owner must register a property with the city and meet fire and building codes.

The other two categories would apply in residentially zoned districts, where an owner would need a special use permit. The first category would be termed a “limited guest house,” with no more than two rooms available and with an owner or a representative on site. This category would include what are called owner adjacent units, such as garage apartments, backyard guest houses and two- or three-family houses, the latter being separate dwelling units in one building, with an owner living in one of them.

The second category would be a “guest house,” with no more than five rooms, 10 guests and an owner or manager in residence.

“We have to make sure that we clearly define the difference between B&Bs and room sharing, because if it’s not clear, they could be defined as the same,” said councilor Jamie Bova, a member of the group.

Renting an entire house for 30 days or less would be allowed by right in the waterfront and business districts but in residential areas a special use permit would be required.

The difference between a dwelling unit and a sleeping unit was also discussed. The former would be a rented space with sleeping facilities, a bathroom and a kitchen. The latter would not have cooking facilities.

“So, we have these two types of facilities [limited guest houses and guest houses]. If you plainly define them, they encompass everything,” Bova said. “Places where you just rent sleeping units, places where you just rent dwelling units… O.K., let’s start focusing on if you have sleeping units, how many make you a guest house… how many make you a hotel.”

She said that the same lines could be drawn with dwelling units.

The session concluded with the group voting to adopt Brooks' three new definitions of short-term rentals.

“I think we’re making progress here,” Scott said. “These [proposed new classifications] are a practical way of looking at it.”

“I think it’s good that we’re getting into splitting the business districts and the residential districts,” Bova said, “and getting into the nitty-gritty of the definitions and being stricter in the residential districts. I think that we have to be aware of the impacts of rentals in the residential zones.”

The group will meet next on July 26 at the public library to discuss enforcement issues.

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