NORTH ADAMS — When people would ask city Building Inspector Bill Meranti if they could operate a short-term rental, like an Airbnb, in the city, “my answer was typically, you can’t,” he said at a public hearing Monday. “They are not allowed under the state building code or under our zoning ordinance which would not allow some of these uses in residential zones.”

A proposed ordinance the City Council and Planning Board are considering would address that gap and place other regulations on short-term rentals, including requiring an inspection and explicitly requiring them to meet the state building code.

A joint virtual public hearing between the Planning Board and City Council on Monday night solicited feedback on the proposed ordinance. Most people who commented were current and or potential short-term rental owners, and many asked questions and expressed concerns with the proposal’s language, wondering how it would impact their business and the city.

The meeting was a public hearing and there was no formal debate or vote on the agenda.

The proposal’s aim is to keep residents and visitors safe and create a registration process, inspection requirements, along with additional regulations.

The nine-page proposal also spells out what part of the state building code rentals would need to comply with, depending on what type of short-term rental it is.

There are 62 short-term rentals in the city, according to a state registry.

Because of the number of them, Michael Lord worried that if properties can’t get inspected quickly it could interfere with bookings that his business has already made. “It could jeopardize the commitments we’ve made and visits from guests coming from out of town,” he said.

He was also worried about language in the ordinance that says if the owner does not live in the property, it must be “professionally managed.”

“That expense does give us a concern,” he said.

Anna Salmeron, who is working on fixing up a home to make a short-term rental, was also concerned about requiring a professional manger if she does not live in the property. She thinks there should be a distinction in the ordinance between someone who manages a short-term rental from somewhere in the city and someone who does it from further away, like from New York City. “We would never be more than five or ten minutes away,” the resident said.

Angela Rocca owns a three-unit building on Church St. where she lives and is planning to restore the other two units to turn into short-term rentals.

“The way I’ve read this proposed ordinance, we would only every be able to rent one of those two units in the house. And if I understand this correctly, it looks like somebody out of town even, developer or investor, could have come in and bought the house and rented out all three units short term.”

Former City Councilor Jess Sweeney said she thought the city could enact a local tax on short-term rentals. “From my understanding, that tax could be utilized and put towards affordable housing,” she said. Though she uses Airbnbs when traveling, she added, “I also want to be really cognizant that we are having some difficulties in preserving housing and affordable housing for people in our community.”

Planning Board Chair Brian Miksic recused himself from discussion. He works with short-term rental owners as a contractor and his company manages properties, including short-term rentals. “A big problem I have with this proposed ordinance,” he said during public comment, “is it will, in my opinion, effectively ban second homeowners from being able to Airbnb their property. Because it will put them into a distinction of an R-1 in the code, which, and Bill (Meranti) would say this as well, technically they are already ... What that means is they would be treated like a hotel.” It might mean they have to install sprinklers or meet ADA-requirements, “which would be financially untenable,” he said.

If passed, what the ordinance would require short-term rental owners to do to their properties depends on their property, Meranti told The Eagle last month. “It may very well include sprinklers,” he said. “It may include some handicap-accessibility issues for entrances and restrooms. It’s on a case-by-case basis. That’s where the angst seems to be from. The people who are investing in these houses, it may, in fact, cost them something to comply with the building code.”

Safety is a key issue the proposal aims to address. City Councilor Keith Bona said Monday that he submitted a request for short-term rental rules a few years ago after talking to people who said they couldn’t pass a city inspection to rent a property as an apartment so they were renting it as an Airbnb, which doesn’t require an inspection.

The City Council has been looking at regulations for years, City Council President Lisa Blackmer said. “We’ve had this discussion in several incarnations going back to 2013,” Blackmer said. The state has left a lot of the regulation up to cites and towns, she said.

“If you really want to fix this you need to contact your state legislator, your state senator,” Blackmer said. “Tweaking it here is probably not going to make anybody happy. It needs to be fixed at the state level.”

Short-term rentals are a cash cow for Great Barrington, but some residents want stricter regulations — even if that means less revenue

The city is not alone — other towns are mulling short-term rental regulations. A proposal that would limit the days a home can be rented without the owner present has stirred debate in Great Barrington.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6272.

Reporter

Greta Jochem, a Report for America Corps member, joined the Eagle in 2021. Previously, she was a reporter at the Daily Hampshire Gazette. She is also a member of the investigations team.