Letter, Opinion

Voters should repeal Killington’s short-term rental bylaw

Dear Editor,

Many of us who rent property in town are not opposed to a registration or permit process, including certification to the rules. There are 930 properties listed on the stort-term rental (STR) sites and over 300 more rentals which are not. Nearly 50% of the town budget is subsidized by rentals, through the property tax base and 1% option tax receipts remitted from the state agreements with Airbnb and VRBO. My property has always been in compliance with existing rules but I personally am opposed, on principal, to the compliance firms under consideration:

1. The state of Vermont has entered meals and rooms tax and privacy agreements with Airbnb and VRBO, which exclude individual property level data collection. The state negotiated these agreements to avoid expensive litigation. These compliance firms under consideration end-run such agreements and harvest data beyond the regulation requirements (occupancy) such as pricing and income, which becomes property of the town and hence public. Why does the town of Killington believe it knows better than the state?

2. Not all short-term rental properties would be treated equally and fairly under this compliance process. There was an inaccurate statement that there are 931 short term rentals in town in the article on STRs last week. There are 931 rentals listed on the rental sites, however there are an additional ~300 short term rentals in town managed by Killington Resort that aren’t available on these rental sites. So there are actually over 1,200 rentals in town. Would those listed with third parties sites be monitored and enforced? How is the town going to manage this reality without narrowly and selectively targeting those self-managing their rentals? Nor would share-houses and other residential uses in the same zoning districts be burdened with the same fees and compliance monitoring.

3. The rental sites are protected by the Consumer Decency Act, and the content on them is protected free speech. Is the town attempting to censor internet content without proof of actual zoning violations occurring? Citing owners based on internet listings is actually now illegal in several states, including ski state Utah. I am not in favor of egregious occupancy and agree that owner education would help here. When faced with a similar situation last year in Stowe, town officials relaxed their STR rules to avoid creating a “ruckus” (their words). Stowe chose not to pursue hundreds of zoning violations or hire out of state compliance firms, while deferring any further regulation to the state.

4. I am not opposed to most of the May 5 bylaw, but the annual registration fee and financing requirement to maintain a zoning permit appears completely unprecedented in Vermont. No other Vermont town has hired these compliance firms or financed them in this way.

5. The Vermont Supreme court, in Toor v. Grand Isle (2012) clearly found that owner property rights supersede any unclear bylaws, and that short-term rentals do not constitute a commercial use change. “Zoning ordinances are in derogation of common law property rights and . . . any uncertainty must be decided in favor of the property owner.” Late last year, Texas overturned Austin’s short-term rental law and admonished the town for violating constitutional rights to assembly and for not having enforced its existing noise and parking ordinances to further a public interest. Would Killington be in the same position?

6. If any settlement has been made in the current homeowner litigation, funded by taxpayer dollars, it should be made public.

This petition gained support for good reasons, some of which I have outlined above. I would be happy to see town officials promote a program that has engaged all stakeholders’ concerns. I think many of us agree that a program with plus-two occupancy and self-certification to the rules achieves this without further legal risks and negative impacts to real estate and tourism in town. The expensive, presumed-guilty compliance process and the bylaw to finance it was not recommended by the planning commission and is unnecessary. A registration program with a complaint-based enforcement seems entirely measured and appropriate for the town of Killington. I believe voters should vote to repeal the May 5 bylaw.

Ryan Aines, second home and a rental owner in Killington. His primary residence is Sparta, N.J. but he’s from Rutland.

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