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Hanover shows signs of accommodating short-term rentals

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 1/4/2020 10:42:32 PM
Modified: 1/4/2020 10:42:06 PM

HANOVER — In Hanover you can order a ride on Uber, pay the parking meter with a ParkMobile app, and have groceries delivered via Instacart.

What you can’t do in Hanover is list your home for rent on Airbnb or related short-term rental websites, an amenity sought by a number of property owners and Dartmouth alumni who both visit Hanover regularly and buy second homes here.

That may finally change.

The town of Hanover will host public forums later this month to get input from residents about revising or lifting the town’s 33-year-old ordinance prohibiting property owners from renting rooms on a short-term basis — i.e., for a period of less than 30 days.

Towns and cities in the Twin States that receive a large influx of tourists and visitors have been grappling with short-term rentals, which have become easy to find and book thanks to the rise in popularity of online booking services like Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO.

Some communities aren’t warm to the idea.

In December, the Laconia, N.H., City Council narrowly passed an ordinance banning short-term rentals, which followed a decision by the New Hampshire Supreme Court in September that upheld Portsmouth’s ordinance against short-term rentals in residential areas.

And beginning April 1, after a push by residents upset over the prevalence of short-term rentals, the village of Woodstock will put into effect a new ordinance that regulates their use by landlords.

But Hanover, with the particular demand for accommodations posed by a college town and the presence of a group of property owners who would like to rent their homes to visitors, will hold what the town bills as “listening sessions” later this month “to hear feedback from residents and neighbors on the pros and cons of short-term rentals,” said Rob Houseman, Hanover’s director of the planning and zoning.

The sessions will be held 7:30-9 p.m. Jan. 21, and 10:30 a.m.-noon Jan. 25 in Room 212 at the Richard W. Black Community Center.

“We want to see whether there is a path forward for a zoning amendment in 2020 that would allow some form of short-term rentals with the expectation that we would revisit it in 2021 to see if it is working and needs to be broadened or tightened,” he said.

Houseman said the upcoming public meetings are not technically a “hearing” since the department is not yet formally soliciting public comments on a specific proposed zoning amendment.

Houseman said the current impetus to review the ban on short-term rentals originated with homeowners in town who have been lobbying the town to change the rules.

The issue of short-term rentals welled up in 2018 when Hanover received a complaint about a property owner who was renting their home on a short-term basis in violation of the ban that many residents were not aware of, according to Houseman.

That led the town to an “internet search” that revealed 29 Hanover properties listed for rent on the short-term sites. Houseman said the town sent letters that fall to those property owners reminding them of the ordinance on the zoning books (inns and bed-and-breakfasts are excluded from the ban).

Houseman said he believes the letter had the intended effect, and most homeowners appear to have complied — a check last week by the Valley News on Airbnb and VRBO for short-term rentals listed in “Hanover” actually turned out to be places located in Lyme or Norwich, although in a few other instances it was difficult to determine the exact location.

Among the property owners who received the town’s letter are Hanover residents Geoff and Suzi Curtis, who were listing on Airbnb an investment property they had purchased on Greensboro Road. The letter, which Geoff Curtis described as “kind of threatening,” surprised them.

“We didn’t know there was an ordinance,” he said.

The Curtises owned the property that slept six, and guests included “young families who were visiting older parents and older parents visiting young families and people who are part of the Dartmouth ecosystem,” he said.

Curtis said they never had complaints from neighbors — “in fact the opposite, there were issues with the long-term renters next door. We had to keep knocking on the door and say, ‘Hey, this is not your driveway,’ ” — and had a rule against any parties.

But Curtis said the upshot was that although “the house we were renting was doing quite well, we had no intention of running afoul of the law, so we put it on the market. Fortunately, it sold relatively quickly” at a slight profit, he said. They’d owned the house about a year.

“That was the end of that,” Curtis said.

Julia Griffin, Hanover town manager, called short-term rentals “clearly a hot issue all over the state and country.”

“Hanover is not immune as we watch those who want to make money from short-term rentals square off against those folks who never intended to live next to a property with lots of visitor turnover and regular incidents of visitor misbehavior,” she said.

Although Griffin acknowledged that she and her family have themselves booked short-term rentals for vacations, she nonetheless expressed concern over non-residential property investors “who come in, buy up homes and apartments and condos and rarely visit them.”

Griffin described it as a “sad trend” that “drives up property values ... which is fine when it comes time to sell but makes it harder for residents to afford the property taxes before they sell.”

“(It) results in lots of big houses that are dark much of the time, all while regular folks struggle to find housing they can afford,” she said.

But others point to beneficial aspects of the trend.

Nan Carroll, a veteran Hanover-area real estate agent, said short-term rentals can be beneficial to homeowners by offsetting their taxes and financing costs.

The median price of a home sale in Hanover was $675,000 among 79 homes sold in 2019, nearly identical to what it was in 2018, according to Carroll, citing industry statistics of reported home sales.

“I personally think (short-term rentals) should be allowed because it helps some people stay in their homes and helps others afford a home,” Carroll said.

She also thinks the town’s zoning ban on no more than three unrelated individuals renting a unit increases rental rates in town by forcing fewer people to cover the property owner’s expenses, though that rule is not under review.

When it comes to Airbnb rentals, Carroll said, it’s better to acknowledge what many homeowners are continuing to do so under the radar, even after the town began enforcing the ban on short-term rentals.

“Believe me, if you drive around on Dartmouth graduation weekend, you know a lot of people have rented their houses,” she said. “They just aren’t doing it out in the open as much.”

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.




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