By Christian Wade | The Center Square
A proposal being considered by a key New Hampshire legislative committee this week would prohibit local governments from banning short-term rentals.
The bill, which was heard Tuesday by the Senate Commerce Committee, would bar cities and towns from enacting zoning restrictions or passing local ordinances prohibiting the use of private properties for short term and vacation rentals.
The bill’s primary sponsor, state Sen. Harold French, R-Canterbury, said the proposal seeks to strike a balance between the interests of homeowners looking to make money off their properties and the need for local governments to regulate the short-term rental industry.
He said the legislation is modeled on a recently approved law that blocks local ordinances preventing homeowners from adding accessory dwellings to residential properties.
“Towns would be prohibited from using zoning power to eliminate the use of a single or two family structure as a short term rental,” French told fellow committee members during Tuesday’s livestreamed hearing. “However, towns would retain their existing authority to regulate those rental properties.”
French said the lack of statewide statutory rules for short-term rentals has fueled a surge of legal actions between local governments and property owners. He said judges have pleaded with lawmakers to enact new rules for the industry.
Several property owners told the committee about making big-ticket financial investments on short-term rental properties, only to see them banned by local governments.
Cities and towns would be allowed to regulate the short-term rental industry and charge homeowners a fee for renting out the properties, under the plan. Local governments would also be allowed to conduct annual inspections of the properties to determine if they meet basic health and safety standards.
The proposal is backed by the New Hampshire Association of Realtors, which says local bans on short-term rentals disrupt the real estate market, decrease property values and take away private property rights.
“Many home buyers can only afford the properties if they can rent them short term,” Chris Norwood, the realtor association’s public policy chairman, told the committee. “If that option is not a possibility then they will no longer seek properties in that community or in our state.”
But representatives of local governments raised concerns that the proposal would restrict the ability of cities and towns to regulate zoning and the short-term rental industry.
Margaret Burns, executive director of the New Hampshire Municipal Association, pointed out that only a handful of communities have enacted zoning regulations on the industry and mostly in response to excessive partying, large gatherings and other problems.
“The majority of New Hampshire municipalities do not regulate short-term rentals,” Burns told the panel. “Instead, what we’re seeing is responses to issues that do come up with short term rentals, and I think that only underscores why it should be left at the local level.”