Burlington Council Approves Short-Term Rental Rules | City | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Burlington Council Approves Short-Term Rental Rules


Published June 28, 2022 at 12:31 a.m.
Updated July 5, 2022 at 4:43 p.m.

A local Airbnb offering - FILE: LUKE AWTRY
  • File: Luke Awtry
  • A local Airbnb offering
Updated at 2:45 p.m.

After years of often-heated debate, the Burlington City Council on Monday approved rules for regulating short-term rentals.

The rules require hosts to live on the same lot or in the same building as their short-term rental, with two exceptions. One allows hosts to use a seasonal home as short-term rental even if they don't live on the property. The other allows the owner of multiple units on a property to use one as a short-term rental if another unit meets certain affordability specifications for long-term rentals.

Hosts are allowed to operate just one "whole unit" short-term rental, such as an accessory dwelling unit in their backyard or the other apartment in the duplex they live in. They could also choose to short-term rent their entire home, or up to three individual rooms — known as "partial units" — within their home.

Monday's 8-2 vote, with two councilors absent, caps a polarizing debate among officials, residents and hosts who often found little common ground on how to limit — and oversee — the burgeoning short-term rental market. Councilors Joan Shannon (D-South District) and Jack Hanson (P-East District) voted against the measure, with both urging more stringent regulation.

Proponents of the regulations have pointed to them as one way to ease the housing crisis in a city — and area — where the rental vacancy rate is below 1 percent. The theory is that the rules will prompt some hosts to turn short-term rentals into long-term ones.
The regs would also prevent investors from buying up homes to rent out short-term. And during public comment at Monday's meeting, some neighbors complained of "party houses" full of hard-drinking, rowdy bachelor parties or college kids.

But several hosts also spoke at public comment, defending themselves and noting that the income their rentals generate allow them to actually afford to live in Burlington. Many said they welcomed regulation — just not over-regulation.

"Today's proposal is balanced, although not perfect for either side," said host Amy Magyar, who urged the council to approve the regs. "But it is based on flexibility for residents of Burlington to use their homes depending on their needs."
Burlington defines a short-term rental as a room or entire dwelling unit that is rented to a guest for less than 30 consecutive days and for at least 14 days every 12 months. Most are rented out on sites such as Airbnb and Vrbo. Approximately 300 were listed in May, according to a memo from city planning director Meaghan Tuttle.

Under the new regs, hosts will pay the city an $80 annual fee for each partial unit rental, while whole unit fees will run $110. Hosts will also pay an extra 9 percent tax on money earned from short-term rentals, which would go to the city's Housing Trust Fund to help build new affordable units. The city will keep a registry of all short-term rentals.

Landlords who evict long-term tenants to turn their property into a short-term rental must pay the tenants' relocation expenses, the regs say. Those include moving costs and the security deposit at the tenant's new place, according to Councilor Ben Traverse (D-Ward 5). By passing the regs, Traverse said,  the council can move on to other options for increasing affordable housing in the city.

"I do think these regulations will take away the 'party house,'" Traverse said, and get rid of investors who have "created Airbnb empires here."
The regulations still need approval from Mayor Miro Weinberger, who in March vetoed a more stringent set of short-term regulations that the council had passed. But on Monday, the mayor indicated that he would sign off on the the new rules.

"From my perspective, this version of the ordinance — while still very restrictive — is fair and less likely to have unintended negative consequences on the housing market," Weinberger said.

Earlier in the meeting, the council unanimously passed the mayor's $96.5 million city budget proposal, which will go into effect July 1 for fiscal year 2023. The spending plan is about $8 million, or 9 percent, more than the current year's. But Weinberger noted that residents' property tax rate — the municipal tax rate plus the estimated education tax rate — will decrease about 4 percent because of a state budget surplus that drove down the education tax rate.

Many residents' tax bills, though, will likely go up because of the increased spending.

The mood was congratulatory as councilors thanked the mayor and his administration for work on the spending plan.

The new budget includes slightly more than $1 million for a police "rebuilding plan" that will be used to hire and retain more officers, as well as funding to hire more non-police personnel such as community service officers and community support liaisons. It also includes $500,000 to move critical city IT systems out of Memorial Auditorium, which is vacant.

Weinberger also touted spending that addresses the climate emergency, invests in public infrastructure and "nuts and bolts funding that's not as sexy as some other investments we make" but that often gets cut.