A few months ago, we learned of the proposed short term rental ordinance, and were alarmed at what appears to be an over reach of town authority with no data to back its proposed actions.
We moved to Rockport 10 years ago with our young children. We have no family ties to the area but chose to live here because of the quality of life, including the area’s natural beauty and small but vibrant town. Of note, we decided to live here during a visit when we stayed in a short term rental.
Our home also has a rental unit which we use for a combination of purposes: extra space for visiting family and friends, and extra income to help us pay for property taxes. It was one of the reasons we purchased this house. We have rented this unit both for long and short term use.
We have tried to understand why the town is possibly interested in such a measure and have gone through much of the archived information on the town website. It appears that a few members of the Select Board initiated this process due to vague concerns that excessive short term rentals are degrading the fabric of the community. In addition, there were some anecdotal reports of noise, parking issues, and conjecture that short term rentals decrease the housing stock for affordable long term units as well as concerns about building code violations that may pose a safety threat.
These are reasonable concerns, but should be backed up with data. Here is a list of the types of questions that came to our mind when considering the topic:
1) Has there been any real attempt at quantifying the amount of short term rentals? To our knowledge, the answer is “no”. We have never been approached by the town to inquire about our rental status/frequency/etc. As owners of a short term rental, we have a business license and collect 9% lodging tax for each rental. This is submitted to the state quarterly. Surely, this information is available to learn how many short term renters there actually are. Data collection is wise before laws.
2) How many people in the town really think that short term rentals are affecting the fabric of our community? Has a survey been sent out to gather public opinion? Again to our knowledge, no effort has been made in this regard.
3) How many noise complaints and citations have been issued? In reading the archived information, it appears that the answer is “none”.
4) What is the evidence that short term rental units are actually decreasing the affordable long term housing stock locally? To our knowledge, no local evidence exists. Although this is a topic of many national and international articles, the relevant answer for us depends upon local data and determinants of housing supply and demand.
5) Is there any evidence that code violations have occurred with resultant safety issues? Again, to our knowledge no one has presented this as a credible threat to public safety.
What is being proposed by the town would be a significant infringement of property owner’s rights. If the town select board proposes such measures, it is incumbent upon the same select board to present data (not anecdotal reports) that support and validate usurping such rights.
In addition to the above, we cannot understand why the town select board would want to do anything that will hamper an economic recovery that will hopefully start this summer. Tourism is one of the vital industries that brings money and jobs to our community. This has been a horrific year for the hospitality industry among others. Why would we take measures that would discourage visitors from staying in our town when we need them most?
Pursuit of such a heavy handed regulatory approach as proposed in the short term rental ordinance is not the correct approach.
We believe the proposed short term rental ordinance is unjustified and cannot be supported in absence of convincing data.
Alexander and Maud Abess live in Rockport