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Short-term rental properties still long-term predicament

By Jack Chavez, Staff Writer


The pictured of this house off Main Street was a focal point in Planning Director Dave Engelhart’s concerns about unlicensed short-term rental properties. Short-term rentals are causing major headaches for the Berlin Planning Department as it looks to crack down on property owners who have been operating without a license. The town is looking at ways it can help the department address the issue.

(May 25, 2023) Roughly a year later, Berlin still has a short-term rental problem.

At issue now are property owners that officials from both the Planning Department and the Berlin Police Department allege are operating “under the radar.”

Berlin Planning Director Dave Engelhart said Monday during the Berlin Mayor and Town Council meeting that six short-term rental licenses have been distributed from a total of 12 applications.

“There are people who are aware that we’re going to embark on them with stringent enforcement,” Engelhart said. “I will say that the reasoning behind our discussion tonight is because of one individual property owner”

“This owner had been informed in a letter (dated) March 13th that he wouldn’t be granted a license, (as well as) the other five who were denied. I talked to the owner face-to-face several times after that.”

Applicants the town denied were not the primary residents of the properties in question.

“This particular owner … was to transfer the house back into his name only,” Engelhart said. “That doesn’t mean to me that he lives there. I know for a fact that he does not.”

Engelhart’s department will now proceed as they have already in determining who can receive a license and who is in violation. They’ll inspect properties for safety, ensure licenses are posted and contact businesses such as Airbnb and VRBO to let them know when an unlicensed property appears on their websites.

“We’ve filed complaints with both of them that this is an unlicensed property,” Engelhart said. “Those listings have since been taken down. There are reservations still on the one property. They were reservations made (in November, January and February).”

To that end, Engelhart said they’ll try to issue denials quicker. The town’s new ordinance includes a daily $600 fine for property owners in violation. The department also will continue to work closely with the police department, which typically handles short-term rental issues that deal with the tenants themselves such as noise complaints and drunk and disorderly conduct.

“The short-term rentals themselves are inspected and registered,” Police Chief Arnold Downing said at the meeting. “Our job is to know where those locations are. They’re all noted. I don’t know if it’s an issue with the short-term rental, it’s the individuals renting properties that aren’t part of our short-term rental process. Again, like any other violation at any property, we will go and respond and deal with the situation accordingly.”

Councilmember Shaneka Nichols said Englehart is going to need help to handle this workload.

“Only one or two are making noise. The rest are not” Nichols said. “They’re rolling every week and looking at the rest of this like, ‘Stop, look at such-and-such address, (because) I’m flying high.’ That’s the part that aggravates me more than what happens in specific locations — the people who are flying under the radar. That’s what’s making this 12 times worse because they are banking, they’re making money off this and we’ve told them no and they’re still doing it.”

“There needs to be someone to assist you … it’s time to get you some help.”

Last year, the mayor and Town Council passed an amendment that changes the language regarding zones where short-term residential rentals are permitted: districts R-1, R-2, R-3, R-4 and B1-3.

The new language states that the rentals are permitted within the R-1 and R-2 districts as well as the R-3, R-4, B-1, B-2 and B-3 districts but that “Rental units in any zoning district must also comply with the requirements for dwelling units contained in the code of the Town of Berlin, Chapter 108 … and Chapter 6.”

The purpose of the short-term rental ordinance, as defined in the code, is to “maintain the character of residential neighborhoods in the town of Berlin and to protect the health, safety and general welfare of residents while allowing short term (sic) rentals to exist under certain conditions and circumstances.”