Barnstable Homeowner Group Proposes Short-term Rental Regulations

BARNSTABLE – A homeowner group in Barnstable has drafted proposed regulations on short-term rentals as the considers residential zoning changes.

BarnstableWatch is concerned that residential zoning traditions will be overhauled to allow transient lodging in all residential neighborhoods.

The group said town staff is drafting regulations for town council consideration that would adopt a “Commercial Lodging Everywhere” model.

Heather Hunt, a BarnstableWatch member, said the group studied other similar tourist communities, including The Hamptons in New York, to develop its proposal.

“This is an issue that municipalities nationally have dealt with already,” Hunt said.

The Hamptons has a lot of similarities to Cape Cod with a lot of second homeownership and concerns about access to housing and quality of life for year-round residents.

BarnstableWatch said the short-term rental regulations in The Hamptons are quite strict in an effort to preserve the region’s character, quality of life and housing. The group has loosened its proposed regulations.

Hunt said the most important regulation would be to ban investor-operated short-term rentals. BarnstableWatch believes homes should be a place where someone actually lives and is proposing at least three months of residence for second homeowners.

There is a concern that investors would purchase a home only to flip it into a year-round makeshift hotel.

“These are homes that basically become homes to no one,” Hunt said. “Great tourist and coastal communities across the country have already done this ban and we are just looking to take that best practice here to Barnstable to protect our long-term livability of our neighborhood, year-round community and year-round quality of life.”

Another recommendation is to preserve diverse zoning and rental traditions. The group said the town’s zoning has long reflected village and neighborhood character.

“In some of our neighborhoods here in Barnstable there are no commercial operations at all. We can’t even, under our current zoning code, rent one room,” Hunt said. “In other areas rentals are allowed.”

BarnstableWatch also seeks to preserve the ability of homeowners to rent rooms when they are home, or homesharing.

There are neighborhoods where zoning permits room rentals to non-related guests when the homeowner is present.

“If somebody is home to supervise their guest, we say enjoy that,” Hunt said.

The group is also proposing a one-week minimum rental stay in permitted zones.

Hunt said rentals have been unchecked over the last few summers.

“People are coming in to town for a day or a weekend to have their party and be on their way,” she said.

President of the Osterville Village Association and BarnstableWatch group member John Crow said destination events have become popular in recent years, especially for millennials.

“They throw a lot of money into an expensive piece of rental property and they put 20 people into a house,” he said. “They come for a bachelorette party or a Cape weekend, and it is a very inexpensive way to do it.”

BarnstableWatch said regulations also need to set and enforce legal occupancy limits.

The organization said the business model for many short-term rentals count on overcrowding and promotes air mattresses, illegal bedrooms and referring to common areas as sleeping quarters.

The practice could be damaging in Barnstable due to the current wastewater problems.

The group believes a failure to comply with the legal number of adults allowed in a home should result in a loss of license to rent.

Possible zoning changes in the town would follow the new short-term rental tax which took effect last summer.

The new law allows town’s to tax up to 17 percent for all short-term rentals, including homes and rooms booked through Airbnb and other similar services.

Crow believes the new taxes could be motivating the town to make zoning changes to allow for more short-term rentals as a way to generate more revenue.

“We don’t know what their motivation is because it has been very difficult to get the Town Council and town employees to describe why they want to pass new zoning laws,” Crow said.

BarnstableWatch is concerned that “Commercial Lodging Everywhere” could also exacerbate the affordable housing issues in the town and on Cape Cod.

“There are renters who can make tens and tens of thousands of dollars on these properties – much more than they can make on a year-round rental,” Crow said. “It is economically logical for people to buy in resort areas and do this and that takes housing stock off the market for people who rent year-round.”

Hunt said the town has properly focused on housing stock in recent years and have discussed in-law apartments and increased density.

“It has honestly been a little bit baffling to understand why while that focus point of policy is being discussed the town is simultaneously letting homes be used as something other than homes,” she said.

The Zoning and Regulatory subcommittee of the Town Council plans to continue discussing proposed changes.

Town Council President Paul Hebert has said he would like to have a draft presented by March.

“We would advocate that the town kind of slow down and take it’s time to get it right,” Hunt said. “This is an issue with deep and long-term implications for residents.”

She said residents have not been presented what town staff are putting forward for proposed changes.

“It makes really great sense to do a lot of public outreach and education,” Hunt said. “And then take a little bit of time to really get into the policy reasons that should drive the decisions about what our neighborhoods look like going forward.”

About Brian Merchant

Brian Merchant grew up in Central Massachusetts and now lives in South Dennis on the Cape. He has been part of the news team in the CapeCod.com NewsCenter since the spring of 2014. He studied radio broadcasting at the University of Tennessee.



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