State News

Are more regulations coming for rentals?

Vermont’s largest city votes to restrictions on short-term rentals

By Jack Lyons/VTDigger

After more than two years of drafting and debate, the Burlington City Council passed regulations Tuesday night that seek to rein in the city’s short-term rental industry.

In an 8-4 vote, councilors banned short-term rentals that are operated anywhere besides the host’s primary residence — unless the short-term rental unit is in a building with one or more long-term rental units that accept Section 8 housing vouchers.

The exception represents a change from what councilors approved in December.

The ordinance, which was sponsored by Councilor Joan Shannon, D-South District, would also set up a registry for short-term rentals and subject them to inspections.

The council considered another version of the ordinance sponsored by Councilor Sarah Carpenter, D-Ward 4, which would have broadened the ordinance’s affordable housing exemption to include units deemed affordable under the city’s inclusionary zoning standard. It also would have allowed the entirety of other buildings on a host’s property, known as accessory dwelling units, to be operated as short-term rentals.

But that proposal failed in a 6-6 vote.

The two-thirds majority vote is enough to withstand a veto from Democratic Mayor Miro Weinberger, who said it would be “very challenging” for him to sign the ordinance into effect.

Proponents see the ordinance as a way to monitor and control the growth of short-term rentals — residential units that, through sites such as Airbnb, function as temporary lodging — in an effort to up the city’s long-term housing stock.

But opponents of the regulations said they won’t create more housing since property owners won’t necessarily convert short-term rental units into long-term ones. Critics also pointed to the ordinance’s potential impact on tourism, saying that limiting short-term rentals would decrease options and drive up prices for would-be Burlington travelers.

To Shannon, however, that argument did not recognize the severity of the city’s housing shortage.

“We’ll still have tourists,” the real estate agent said. “Yes, it will be more expensive, but the tradeoff is that some of our workers will get housing.”

The ordinance would still allow owners of a single-family home to accept guests on a short-term rental basis in up to three bedrooms of their house, Shannon said.

Barlow pushed back, saying that tourists who come to Burlington want a whole-unit, short-term rental, not just a room in someone’s home.

“Visitors to our city expect (short-term rentals) in the same way they expect to be able to get an Uber when they’re here,” Barlow said.

Owners of homes that the city classifies as seasonal — because they do not have heat, for instance — can operate as short-term rentals, according to the ordinance. In addition, the language does not require hosts to be on site during a short-term rental booking, meaning a homeowner could rent their entire house as a unit, provided it is their primary residence.

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