Homeowner Group Barnstable Watch Submits Short-Term Rental Regulations to Town Council

Modeled on regulations from The Hamptons...

Press release from Barnstable Watch

Barnstable MA. - On January 9, 2020, Town of Barnstable staff recommended changing longtime residential zoning traditions and making transient lodging legal in all residential neighborhoods. Town planning staff is drafting “Commercial Lodging Everywhere” regulations for Town Council consideration.

Council President Paul Hebert set a March 2020 deadline for the draft. “We have to get to a point that we have an actual document to work on,” Hebert said, “…then we can, together – the citizens, and this council, and the staff – come up with a presentation and a document to
make it all happen.”

In that spirit, the citizen group BarnstableWatch drafted regulations. They align with President Hebert’s desire, which he shared at the January 23, 2020 Barnstable Town Council meeting. Our regulations, he said, should reflect “what other communities are doing successfully, that’s what
we want to imitate…to protect all of our citizens and all of our neighborhoods.”

The regulations BarnstableWatch proposes are based on the study of other successful communities. We’re not the first, or tenth, or even twentieth popular tourist destination to deal with juggernauts Airbnb, Vrbo, HomeAway, and services like theirs offered by Realtors and other commercial interests.

The most influential community regulations have been the Hamptons. Here’s why:

• Like Barnstable, The Hamptons are a group of diverse seaside villages and hamlets with their own characters and traditions.
• They have significant population increases during the summer.
• The Hamptons are also a year-round community, and a year-round weekend community. Shops and restaurants that used to close are now open “off season.”

The Hamptons’ short-term rental regulations are quite strict, reflecting its interest in preserving its character, quality of life and housing. We agree with those values but have loosened our version considerably to respect local rental traditions.

Highlights of the “Diversity & Tradition” regulations 

Preserves our diverse zoning and traditions. Barnstable zoning has long reflected village and neighborhood character. We believe there should be no short-term rentals in residential zones with no commerce, no transient lodging, and where not even a single room rental has been
allowed by law. At the same time, areas that have longtime seasonal rental traditions, like Craigville Beach, will also not be forced to change. Preserving our zoning traditions will also help preserve our hotels, motels, Inns and Bed and Breakfasts that have long been an important
part of our community. 

Bans investor-operated short-term rentals. This is common in destination communities in the U.S. and around the world. The property must be a place where someone actually lives — in this case, and in light of second-home ownership, the owner must reside there only three
months a year. The three-month requirement is lighter than most, but still works to do what coastal and tourist communities have found to be so important: preventing offsite investors from flipping homes into hotels. Housing stock here in Barnstable is precious and vacation rental rules need to reflect that undisputed fact.

Sets minimum rental stays for lodgers. Consistent with Cape rental traditions, we propose a one-week minimum rental duration in permitted zones. Our proposal bans the pay-per-night, one-, two-, and three-night stays that Airbnb-like platforms sell, or the “mini-stays” that some
Realtors offer.

Respects legal occupancy limits. Rental ads must identify the legal number of adults allowed in the home per the Town Code. Failure results in the loss of license to rent. The business model of many short-term rentals counts on chronic overcrowding: air mattresses, illegal bedrooms,
calling common areas sleeping quarters. This is especially damaging in Barnstable, which must protect our delicate septic systems for decades until the $1.5 billion wastewater modernization project is complete. Like the Hamptons, we presume if property advertising is not aligned with
legal occupancy limits, there is overcrowding. This will ease enforcement work, eliminating the need for Town staff to do tourist count heads at 2:00 a.m. or asking neighbors to police the house next door.

Preserves real homesharing for guests: In neighborhoods where zoning has permitted room rentals to non-related guests, residents can share their primary homes when they are also present. Barnstable requires that all motels, hotels, Inns and Bed & Breakfasts have management present when overnight lodgers are present; the same need exists when overnight lodgers stay in rooms next door.

Enforcement is clear. Our proposal eases enforcement where possible by identifying presumptions, provides a timeline for enforcement, and a hearing process so citizens have assurance of timely action and due process.

About Town staff draft regulations

Town staff advanced “Commercial Lodging Everywhere” regulations. In short, all residential neighborhoods in Barnstable would have the same short-term rental zoning as seasonal vacation cottage areas. In a stunning change, single-family dwellings could legally have nothing but transient lodgers. Offsite investors could legally flip homes into 365-day-a-year makeshift hotels. They wouldn’t need to live in the home, simply use it as an income-producing commercial operation.

Neighbors would get some nuisance regulations and a phone number to call with complaints. 

This approach is advocated by the Cape Cod & Islands Association of Realtors that plans a professional polling, public relations and advertising campaign funded by the National Association of Realtors.

BarnstableWatch developed a draft that comports with our zoning and rental traditions, as well as President Hebert’s stated goals of imitating other successful communities. We encourage the Town to do exactly that.

Barnstable Watch is a group of homeowners who have lived near homes that off-site investors have flipped into makeshift hotels, and homeowners who worry it might happen next door to them.

For more information, visit BarnstableWatch.com

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