LENOX -- Several innkeepers are turning up the heat on town officials, urging a crackdown on what they believe are illegal short-term rentals.

Town officials, however, are urging patience while they seek legal clarification on town bylaws and whether enforcement action is warranted.

At the most recent Select Board meeting, Brook Farm Inn co-owner Phil Halpern presented a petition signed by 15 lodging owners asking the town to take action against homeowners who rent entire single- or two-family homes, apartments and condos for less than 30 days.

"The clock is ticking," Halpern told the Selectmen, because several innkeepers are citing the upcoming holiday and ski seasons.

"One of them is concerned because he's lost business, since people would rent a house, which is in violation of our zoning bylaws, as opposed to taking multiple rooms in his motel," Halpern said. "So, business is being lost as we speak, and also revenue is being lost for the town."

Halpern first raised the issue at a citizens open forum in September. He contends that the practice violates local bylaws that appear to prohibit such short-term rentals, which cut into lodging occupancy rates, depriving the town of revenue from lodging and meals taxes, and posing potential safety threats. He said the practice has become more widespread because of several websites that list short-term house rentals.

In addition to Halpern, the petition was signed by operators of the Birchwood, Kemble, Cornell, Apple Tree, Rookwood and Seven Hills inns, and the Summer White House, as well as properties along Routes 7 & 20 -- the Econo Lodge and the Yankee, Hampton, Howard Johnson, Knights, Lenox and Wagon Wheel inns.Zoning bylaws permit house rentals for one month or more. Individual rooms in homes may be rented from June 1 through Labor Day and subsequently on weekends through Columbus Day, limited to three guests per house, the bylaws state.

In addition to Halpern, the petition was signed by operators of the Birchwood, Kemble, Cornell, Apple Tree, Rookwood and Seven Hills inns, and the Summer White House, as well as properties along Routes 7 & 20 -- the Econo Lodge and the Yankee, Hampton, Howard Johnson, Knights, Lenox and Wagon Wheel inns.Zoning bylaws permit house rentals for one month or more. Individual rooms in homes may be rented from June 1 through Labor Day and subsequently on weekends through Columbus Day, limited to three guests per house, the bylaws state.

Since the interpretation of the relevant bylaws may be open to question, as Town Planner Mary Albertson has explained, the hot-button issue awaits a ruling from town counsel, said Select Board Chairman David Roche.

Kopelman and Paige, the Boston-based law firm that represents about 125 cities and towns statewide from Cape Cod to Berkshire County, has been researching the issue.

"I would hope we could accomplish getting the information within a month," Roche said. "To be fair to everyone, we need to make that an agenda item at one of our future meetings so we can hear from the people who are calling us on the other side of that coin."

"If you go online, there's 100 towns doing 100 different things with this," said Selectman John McNinch.

Selectman Channing Gibson stressed the need for clarity from town counsel.

"As clear as [Halpern] makes it sound that our bylaws say exactly what he says they're saying, our town planner isn't so sure that our bylaws are that clear," he emphasized. "Is our law correct? Are we reading the law correctly? Are the innkeepers reading the law correctly? We need to find that out."

"I don't want to lose the impetus on this issue," Roche said later in the evening, "but I do not want to make a decision that we'll regret. I would rather forego some of the income so we can gather all the information we need to make a comprehensive decision on a policy that's fair to everyone."

To contact Clarence Fanto:
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or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto