In a state in which the importance of local control is so zealously asserted, it can be surprising when state legislators propose running roughshod over that principle for no compelling reason.
A recent case in point is legislation co-sponsored this month by state Sens. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, Harold French, R-Franklin, and Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, that would bar cities and towns throughout the state from prohibiting short-term or vacation rentals.
That the issue has arisen is no surprise, as in recent years Airbnb and other online rental services have gained in popularity and enabled willing homeowners to market their properties for short-term rental far more widely and effectively than ever. That’s been a welcome development for owners who might want to earn some income off their property, and in many cases they should be free to do so.
But short-term rentals can present problems for communities. One of the more obvious potential concerns — disorderly use — the proposed legislation would seek to address by allowing municipalities to impose fines of $500 and $1,000 for second and third offenses, and to suspend the property’s permitted use as a short-term rental, but only for up to three months.
Even so, use of short-term rentals also has the potential to disrupt a community’s efforts to shape its character through its traditional oversight of land-use planning and zoning regulation. In certain circumstances, Airbnb rentals can be for single nights and can lead to very transient use. They also can be marketed and potentially used frequently for a variety of uses, including large parties. Depending on the neighborhood or the community, that may be good, or that may be bad. But it should be the local community making that call through its zoning process, and not the state dictating it by fiat.
In justifying the legislation, French told The Laconia Daily Sun legislation is needed to avoid a patchwork quilt of local regulations on short-term rentals. That, however, is exactly what the state’s broad grant of power to regulate land use and zoning is meant to promote, and the issue of whether short-term rentals should be allowed, restricted or permitted is best addressed by the communities where they are. Local control, you know.