Pass Article 59 And Then Address Nuisance Short-Term Rentals

Kathy Baird •

To the editor: To Patsy Wright and others living next to a bad short-term rental (STR) neighbor, of course, you shouldn't be subjected to "ragers" next door. Nobody should. You have a right to be angry and frustrated. We only differ on how to fix that.

The registry is finally in place and the town now has the legal ability in Chapter 123 of the town code (from Article 39 passed in 2022) to fine the owners and shut these nuisance STRs down. And this, without any harm to the vast majority who are responsible STR owners. You have far fewer options if that is your non-STR neighbor making the noise and mess. If that same neighbor operated an STR without the issues you cite, would you still feel the need to restrict their right to rent? The vast majority of homes offered for vacation rentals are ‘good neighbor’ STR operators with deep connections to the island, who are quite happy to abide by the town code and cannot survive under an ‘accessory use’ restriction.

Without Article 59, gone are the traditional seasonal cottages whose only use is as a vacation rental where the owner cannot live in it more than they rent it. Gone are the 2nd or 3rd properties that legacy on-island families have inherited or purchased to rent now and pass along to their children while they earn the most they can from their equity. And gone are many of your part-time neighbors who will sell to the highest bidder – someone who does not need to rent their home. You may not even know those current ‘good neighbors’ rent their home.

Yes, you and others report serious issues with some neighbors. I acknowledge your pain and frustration. But, please listen to ours. Those who live in their homes part of the year and rent them throughout the year have no way of knowing a year ahead of time (local registry of an STR with the town must be completed by November 1st of the previous year), how much time we can and will spend in our Nantucket home.

This guesstimate then would provide an initial guideline to how much we can rent; a determination which can be challenged by any neighbor at any time to prove our compliance to the ZBA and possibly end up in court. We are therefore in legal jeopardy every time we sign a lease and have to eat the penalties for canceling a rental once we think we might be violating an ‘accessory use’ rule based on days lived in our home. But is that really how accessory use is determined? Without a zoning definition, it is anyone’s guess and that is an expensive gamble. Do family or friends living in our home count? That is unknowable as the zoning does not define the term. Longer-term rentals are not possible because many of us use our home every month of the year and month-long vacation rentals are largely a thing of the past or COVID-related.

Passing Article 59 does not take away any of your rights nor does it remove the ability to further regulate/restrict or prohibit certain types of STRs at this or any future town meeting. That fact is confirmed by how the state's enabling STR legislation was created and by Town Counsel in last week’s Inky. Whatever PNNF, the town, or any citizen proposes for the planned fall STM is not affected by the passage of 59. Let’s vote YES on Articles 59 and 60 and continue the discussion of additional options the voters can consider in STR general bylaw amendments.

Kathy Baird
Nantucket Together

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