Julie Marks at her short-term rental property in Jericho.
A bill that would have required the owners of short-term rentals to register their properties with the state fell short of the final approval needed to become law. Advocates are hopeful they can breathe life into the measure when they return to the Statehouse in January.
The bill is part of a larger measure aimed at improving the quality of long-term rental housing and setting up a professional health and safety inspection system to replace the one that is now largely staffed by volunteer town health officers.
“We’ve been trying to get something like this across for essentially 12 years,” said Rep. Tom Stevens (D-Waterbury), a longtime housing advocate who is chair of the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs. He said the bill was rejected by many Republicans who saw the proposed registry as government overreach.
The proposed registry for short- and long-term rental units would have cost property owners $35 per unit; the money would have helped pay for five inspectors who would work from the state’s Division of Fire Safety.
The bill itself is the work of the state’s rental housing advisory board, a panel that includes affordable housing advocates, a landlord group, municipal representatives and others who represent a spectrum of interests. The board was set up in 2018 and issued a report a year later that was used a basis for the rental housing health and safety bill, S.79.
The bill also calls for a $5 million grant program that would provide a $30,000 forgivable loan to property owners to renovate their rentals if they make them available to lower-income Vermonters, and a no-interest, $50,000 loan to first-time homebuyers who make up to 120 percent of the area's median income. Up to a quarter of that money could be used for down payment assistance.
And it would change the state’s eviction moratorium to enable some evictions on an emergency basis — for example, when a property owner is trying to move into the home.
Sen. Alison Clarkson (D-Windsor) said she has heard from two constituents who are trying to retire and move back to homes they own in Vermont, but can’t make their tenants leave. The eviction moratorium is expected to be lifted this summer, a month after Gov. Phil Scott ends the state of emergency in Vermont.
Not included on the rental housing advisory board is the Vermont Short-Term Rental Alliance, a Richmond-based group that formed in recent months. But the alliance also supported S.79, said executive director Julie Marks.
Marks said the alliance has about 500 members who own property in Vermont and who want the short-term rental industry to become more professional, with standards similar to those of other states and countries.
“We’re not against regulation, but we want to be a part of the process of developing regulations that make sense in our industry,” Marks said. She’s assessing which Vermont municipalities have their own short-term rental regulations. Right now, she knows of three: Woodstock, Norwich and Killington. Greensboro and Burlington are working on their own rules, she said.
Hospitality business owners have called for short-term rental properties to be subject to the same health and safety inspections that traditional lodging properties are.
Some short-term rental property owners oppose the bill, saying it would impose onerous charges on very small businesses and harm the state's tourism industry.
"If Vermont loses STR properties due to new, cumbersome, and expensive requirements, most of these renters are not going to rush towards a local hotel," Eric Chittenden, who owns a short-term rental property in Waterbury Center, testified May 3 in Stevens' committee. "They will, and do already, look for properties in neighboring states, if they can’t find what they want in Vermont."
But Marks said the alliance favors regulation.
“What we are really interested in is kind of stewarding a responsible and respected vacation rental industry in Vermont,” Marks said.