2018-11-08 / Front Page

Committee Reports on Short-Term Rentals

By James Merolla

A city planning committee has finished five months of work, resulting in a six-page report stating that the proliferation of short-term rentals in Newport have many benefits, but must be monitored carefully with an administrator of oversight in place, a clearly defined registration process and penalties for those who illegally generate profits.

The major recommendation made by the committee is to create a full-time position to serve as a direct point of contact for the public, for enforcement, and to facilitate communication between short-term rental platforms and city departments. The position would be funded from increased registration fees.

But Planning Board member Kim Salerno, who supported the new position, said, “I don’t see the [City] Council putting it into the budget.”

The committee also called for a unique registration number to be placed on all advertising to expedite policing by both the city and the platforms, and for stronger enforcement of unregistered rentals. Finally, the committee wants properties to be owner-occupied in residential areas.

Among the responsibilities for the new oversight position would be to collect registration forms and fees, police illegal guest houses, cross-reference registration numbers, serve as a liaison between the city and hosting platforms, follow up on neighbor complaints, and work with the city and state tax office to ensure appropriate revenues are being received.

Other recommendations included; reviewing hosting platforms, work alongside host compliance on letters and notification to unregistered houses, and conduct onsite visits and walkthroughs.

“The final outcome is that the sharing economy should be welcomed by the city as long as it’s managed well,” said Planning Board member Jeff Brooks, who chaired the committee. “Short-term rentals are a true economic generator for the city and its citizens, and it creates an opportunity for our visitors. We just need to make sure it’s approached in a well-managed way as to not be- come a burden on our housing and citizens.”

The Planning Board voted on Nov. 5 to accept the report and forward it to the city manager, which is the first step in getting the City Council to create a new policy on short-term rentals and would be part of a newly-created zoning ordinance.

“That is the key element here,” said Planning Board Chair Melissa Pattavina. “There is no ordinance here. There are a bunch of recommendations. I don’t want to send this in as a communication and it stops. We would like to see [the City Council] develop polices.”

According to the report, revenue generated from approximately 4,000 nights at more than 300 properties in 2017, and from nearly 7,500 nights at close to 450 properties so far in 2018 resulted in a 7 percent sales tax to the state and only one percent to the city of Newport as a hotel tax.

A 6 percent room tax also remits to the state for room shares, which is renting out a single room in a home. Since 2015, Airbnb has remitted over $3.5 million in taxes to the state, including more than $360,000 to Newport.

The study concluded by saying that “Short-term rentals have a positive impact on the city in many ways, including added industry, increased tax revenue, increased investment in the city, added income for local homeowners and an avenue for visitors to experience the city in a way a conventional hotel would not offer.

“As a city that embraces technology and change, we should welcome the advent of hosting platforms like Airbnb, VRBO and Home Away with open arms. It is the habitual infringement on existing ordinances that is creating a negative atmosphere and causing disruptions in neighborhoods and the housing market. If ordinances were more strictly enforced it would foster appropriate growth that wouldn’t impede on the fabric of our neighborhoods, the livelihoods of neighbors and impair those businesses trying to operate within the law.”

“I think an overseer would be ideal, but I don’t see the council putting it into the budget,” said Board member Kim Salerno, who added that the majority of bed & breakfasts in town are guest houses with seasonal vacancies increasing, adding to many months of what they committee calls 'Dark Houses.'

“Seasonal vacancies are an issue and every year it gets worse and worse,” added Salerno.

“Keep the reins tight,” said board member Brian Rochelle. “You did an excellent job. This is a good report. We are just starting this out.”

The STR group was formed in June, holding a series of meetings through September.

Volunteers who formed the group were Pattavina, Vice Chair Liam Barry, former chair of the Zoning Board, Rebecca McSweeney, Newport Fire Marshal Wayne Clark, Newport Fire Captain Robert Dufault, and Newport attorney Turner Scott and Terry Mullany, a local property and business owner.

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