NORTH ADAMS — The debate over how the city best can regulate short-term rentals continued Tuesday night, at a public hearing about a proposed ordinance.
The story so far: The proposal, officially introduced this year, would require short-term rentals, like those rented through Airbnb or Vrbo, to get inspected by the city. Among other regulations, the proposal also explicitly requires short-term rentals to meet the state building code, and they must be “professionally managed” if the rental is not owner-occupied or owner-adjacent, meaning that the owner lives in the same building of four or fewer units.
What the public said Tuesday: Only a few members of the public spoke at the joint public hearing with the Planning Board and City Council, far fewer than during the previous public hearing last month.
Dan Rozycki, who splits his time between North Adams and Austin, Texas, was one of the commenters.
“My understanding is that if this ordinance does pass, that I would need to add things, I would need to add sprinklers to our home and I would need to add fire doors to our home. And so I’m trying to find out if, A, is that correct? And B, if that is not correct, can somebody help me understand what changes I would need to make tomorrow?”
It depends, said Bill Meranti, director of the city’s Inspection Services. “You should have a design professional review your property with the use that you intend to do,” he said. “And they would come to you with a list of things that needed or that don’t need to be done to your property to make it meet the building code.”
Rozycki’s question highlighted an anxiety other short-term rental owners have expressed: uncertainty about potentially costly changes they might need to make to their property to meet the state’s building code.
The proposed ordinance, though, “doesn’t change the fact that the building code exists,” Meranti said. “And if you operate a short-term rental that is transient in nature, and you’re not owner-occupied, it does create a change in use ... The fact that now we’re going to have a comprehensive list of who is doing this out there, enforcement will increase, certainly, because we know who’s out there doing it now.”
The building code is a state issue, Councilor Keith Bona said. “I think Councilor [Lisa] Blackmer has noted a number of times that if you have issues with these, then bring it to your state officials, not your local officials,” he said.
Council concerns: City councilors Marie Harpin, Ashley Shade and Bryan Sapienza said they do not support the proposal as it is written.
“I think this ordinance misses the mark on some of the more important issues,” Shade said. “And in its current iteration, I wouldn’t be able to support it.”
For example, she said, “It doesn’t take into account the fact that in creating a short-term rental from a property, that property is no longer available for housing in the city. And we have to have a way of balancing that as well.”
Meranti said he has been to many meetings on the proposed ordinance.
“I’ve yet to see an edit,” he said. “If we had some edits to this that somebody would propose, that’s what a draft was for. I mean, there are certainly things that could be improved on this, possibly, or eliminated altogether. Inspections, in my opinion, are not one of them.”
So, what happens next?: A vote on the proposal is on the agenda for the Planning Board’s next meeting, Monday evening.
“That vote can be to recommend not recommend,” said member Lynette Bond, who was facilitating Tuesday’s public hearing. “We can do a host of different things.”