Officials eye new regs for short-term rentals in Orange

Orange Town Hall.



Staff Writer

Published: 12-01-2023 3:19 PM

Modified: 12-01-2023 8:43 PM

ORANGE — Town officials are looking to include short-term rentals in the local zoning bylaws though without burdening people who rely on income from stays at their properties.

Walker Powell, the community development director, explained to Selectboard members on Wednesday that there are 22 short-term rentals in Orange, but they are not operating legally because they are not mentioned in any bylaws. The building commissioner is taking no action against them, however, in order to allow the Planning Board time to develop regulations. At a minimum, Powell said, short-term rentals will need to be added to the town’s Table of Uses in order to continue operating.

“These aren’t people renting out a room in their basement,” Powell said remotely at the Nov. 29 meeting. “They’re businesses or they’re homes that people live in for some part of the year but then rent out for the majority of the year.”

A warrant article is required to update the Table of Uses and add the short-term rental definition and performance standards to the zoning bylaw. The plan is to have the article ready for Annual Town Meeting in June 2024.

The state’s definition of a short-term rental is “an occupied property that is not a hotel, motel, lodging house or bed-and-breakfast establishment, where at least one room or unit is rented out by an operator through the use of advance reservations.” Short-term rental platforms include Airbnb and Vrbo. According to the state, a short-term rental can include an apartment, house, cottage or condominium. It does not include property rented out through tenancies at will or month-to-month leases, time-share properties or bed-and-breakfast homes.

Powell said that as of Nov. 29 there had been 305 responses to surveys sent to more than 1,500 households with the town’s September, October and November water bills. She called this “a decent response rate for a survey” and said it offers a healthy glimpse at public opinion. Powell reported that 76.4% of respondents said they support adding short-term rentals to the Table of Uses and allowing them to operate in Orange. Nearly 59% said they would support a bylaw for short-term rentals. The surveys also are available online and at Town Hall and have also been distributed to the farmers market, the Transfer Station, and the Packard Heights and Lake Mattawa associations.

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“So we have a pretty good idea now what our path going forward probably should be, but I want to broaden the discussion to make sure we’re moving in the right direction,” Powell mentioned.

She explained that, like any other type of lodging service, short-term rentals are required to file with the state and pay a room excise tax and, like any other business, should be required to get a business certificate with the town. Properties rented out for fewer than 14 days per year are not required to register with the state Department of Revenue and would not be required to obtain a business certificate. Powell said two of the 22 Orange short-term rentals registered with the DOR in 2022 were listed as owner-occupied. These 22 properties were owned by 13 individuals and the properties are operating as businesses, not residences.

According to Powell, most survey respondents said they felt it would be government overreach to require a special permit for short-term rentals. There were 67 comments from people who had seen benefits from short-term rentals in their neighborhoods and 11 comments regarding issues caused by the rentals. Powell said all department heads consulted support legalization of short-term rentals with some regulations.

Powell told Selectboard members she is working with short-term rental owners to ensure any performance standards established are not too burdensome and don’t duplicate requirements from Airbnb or other online platforms.

She said the proposed registration process would be simple and limited to three steps. A property owner would have to file for a business certificate through the online permitting system and get a zoning report form from the building commissioner. As part of the zoning report, they would receive a short-term rental permit form to sign and submit as an attachment to their business certificate. One form per property would be required.

A preliminary inspection would be conducted by the building commissioner and the fire chief to ensure all performance standards are met. The short-term rental permits would be updated on the same schedule as the business certificate.

Selectboard Chair Tom Smith asked if Airbnb inspects properties used for short-term rentals and Powell said she believes the online platform requires the submission of some photographs. Selectboard member Jane Peirce told Powell she likes “the light touch you’re striving to adopt here.”

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