Newport begins to tackle short-term rentals as many properties operate under the radar

Last month, Newport City Council approved a prescription requiring all short-term rental owners to register their properties with the city before advertising them on web platforms like Airbnb and VRBO. Under the new rules, if caught with an unregistered rental, landlords can be fined.

Since then, the widespread non-compliance across the city has become even more apparent.

At a special short-term rentals workshop Wednesday, Newport Zoning Officer Guy Weston reported that the city has identified 307 suspicious short-term rentals. Almost 60% of these properties, approximately 180 rentals, were “certified as a guesthouse operator without registering” with the city.

“Because of this list, and because of the ordinance which [the City Council] adopted, our staff issued 129 citations for inappropriate advertising and other guesthouse-related violations, ”said Weston.

It specifies that a rental may be deemed non-compliant if it is not registered, or failing that, if there is a difference between the number of beds registered and the number of beds announced.

A number of Newport residents spoke at the workshop, some to defend Airbnb owners and others to support tighter restrictions on short-term rentals.

“I was a little dismayed to discover the trend of fewer and fewer year-round residents staying in Newport – especially the middle class, and especially families,” said resident Penelope Hunt, who grew up in Newport and recently returned to raise him. children. “I am therefore concerned about the removal of housing units from the supply available for year-round occupancy, whether for purchase or rental. “

Hunt said she also suspected that the total number of short-term rentals offered at Newport could be well over 307. According to AirDNA, a company that tracks short-term rental data, there are currently 857 active rentals in Newport posted on Airbnb and VRBO. City staff noted, however, that rentals in nearby towns like Middletown and Portsmouth are sometimes mislabeled as Newport rentals.

Newport relies on neighbors to help police rent short-term

Newport currently employs a part-time rental compliance officer, but going forward, Weston has recommended the city consider making this a full-time position. City council could also implement tax changes to encourage long-term rentals, he said.

Beyond that, city staff suggested Newport could encourage the creation of neighborhood watches to track down unauthorized rentals. According to the Weston report, the city already relies on the help of “hundreds of compliance volunteers,” local residents who report suspected violations.

Several Newport officials also expressed support Wednesday night for law Project at the state level that would require short-term rental owners to register their properties with the Department of State Business Regulation before posting them online. The Rhode Island House and Senate passed this bill earlier this year, but it was vetoed by Governor Dan McKee.

“It’s a bit similar to what you adopted as council a few weeks ago, which sparked all of these quotes that we’ve been putting out,” Newport City Manager Joe Nicholson said. “But that would put state power behind control of this industry, we think significantly.”

The multitude of illegally operated properties in Newport stands in stark contrast to the small number of new short-term rentals that have been approved in the restricted residential areas of Newport. In the past five years, the Zoning Board of Review has granted only ten special use permits for short-term rentals, which are needed outside of the city’s main business and shopping districts.

“I think that puts things in a very different perspective for me, because I’m still very concerned, and I know a lot of people are concerned, about the impact that these short-term rentals are having on our neighborhoods,” he said. Newport said. City Councilor Jamie Bova. “And that means where we need to crack down the most is against the unregistered and the offenders.”

Antonia Ayres-Brown is the Newport bureau reporter for public radio and a member of the Report for America corps. She can be reached at [email protected].

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