Airbnb and Vrbo vacation rentals, like transportation services Lyft and Uber, have become popular options for travelers and, as a result, have grown into an important segment of the gig economy. A glimpse at these vacation rental websites reveals dozens of properties available in the Monadnock Region, from lakeside cottages and farm stays to in-town rooms in historic homes.

However popular with vacationers, these short-term rentals have their detractors, who worry about nuisance and the effects they might have on availability of affordable housing. A bill making its way through the state Legislature aims to allow municipalities to regulate them but not to ban them. A case to decide whether short-term rentals can legally be banned is also headed to the state Supreme Court.

Short-term vacation rentals offer property owners a way to make ends meet in a state that, overall, pays relatively low wages. It’s unlikely the accommodations these property owners provide would otherwise contribute to the stock of affordable housing: They want guests, not long-term tenants.

Short-term rentals contribute more than $40 million in rooms and meals taxes, says Bob Quinn, chief executive officer of the N.H. Association of Realtors, who testified before a N.H. House committee last week in favor of the bill to block cities and towns from banning short-term rentals such as those offered through Airbnb and Vrbo.

The state Senate recently passed the bill, which is now under consideration in the House of Representatives. Municipalities are generally opposed to the measure. In a state that tends to favor decentralized, local government, it’s curious that legislators would promote a bill removing local control over these rentals.

As Sentinel Statehouse reporter Rick Green reported last week, issues with these types of rentals — noise, trash, trespassing and parking problems — particularly in resort areas, have led some municipalities to impose restrictions, including banning short-term rentals from certain parts of town.

Margaret Byrnes, executive director of the N.H. Municipal Association, testified against Senate Bill 249 before the House Municipal and County Government Committee last Thursday, saying the legislation would take away fundamental rights from local officials to preside over zoning decisions. “This bill would not allow municipal officials to allow short-term rentals in some districts but not in others,” she said.

The bill allows registration and inspection of such properties and retains the right of municipalities to regulate parking, noise, safety and sanitation, among other things, as Bob Quinn pointed out in his testimony. He argues that renting out one’s property is a fundamental right of private property owners.

This may be true, but then, all zoning inhibits property rights in some way. Short-term Airbnb and Vrbo vacation rentals differ from longer-term residential rentals in that they operate more like a hospitality business. Municipalities generally regulate such businesses via zoning and other codes, so vacation rentals should remain within the purview of municipal regulation.

One hopes, however, that cities and towns will exercise common sense when dealing with short-term rentals, many of which cause no problems and are assets to their communities. Besides revenue from rooms and meals taxes, they bring to the state visitors who will likely spend money at other local establishments. And vacation rentals are generally maintained to a fairly high standard, which can help elevate local property values.

The city of Keene, where several properties are listed on Airbnb with top-notch reviews, serves as an example of a sensible approach to short-term rentals. While he opposes legislation that would infringe upon local decision-making, Mayor George Hansel said the city has adopted no special restrictions or regulations for short-term rentals. He said he has not heard complaints about these businesses.

As a 1961 article in the Fordham Law Review titled “Zoning and the Law of Nuisance” notes, the basic philosophy behind both nuisance and zoning (law) is the same, and that is the proper regulation and use of property. As long as they create no nuisance, short-term rentals should be allowed. But, in the end, the decision should be left to the locals.

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