Tisbury selectmen voted last night to pull a bylaw from the town meeting warrant that would establish sweeping new regulations for rental properties in Vineyard Haven.
The first of its kind on the Island, the proposed bylaw would require all property owners who rent houses, apartments, studios or rooms to obtain certification from the town or face stiff fines. Drafted by the town fire chief, building inspector and health agent in January, the bylaw appears on a special town meeting warrant that voters will take up next Tuesday night, concurrent with the annual town meeting.
At their regular meeting last night, selectmen said the comprehensive bylaw had not received enough public airing.
“I don’t want it to go away, I want it to remain on our minds and as a priority to get out there to the public and work on so that we have it better understood and are ready to pass it the next time we have a meeting,” selectman and board chairman Melinda Loberg said.
The nine-section bylaw would apply to all rentals: seasonal, year round and short term. Property owners would be required to obtain three-year certificates, register their rentals with the town and make their properties available for health and safety inspections. An unspecified fee would be charged by the town, with a provision for waivers in certain cases, such as for affordable rentals.
Mrs. Loberg said the proposed bylaw was not given the public airing it deserved because of the tight timeline between when the draft was submitted and warrants had to be finalized. Jeff Kristal, representing the finance committee, reportedly asked the selectmen last week to remove the article from the special town meeting warrant. At a town cabinet meeting last Thursday, the selectmen agreed to discuss the matter at their next regular meeting.
In Tisbury, new general bylaws do not require a public hearing before town meeting. But the selectmen agreed the town would be better served through more public meetings.
Regulating rentals is a growing topic for discussion on the Vineyard and also statewide. In Chilmark early discussion about regulating short-term rentals began this winter.
A state bill has been filed on Beacon Hill that would allow towns to tax short-term rentals such as Airbnb.
But selectman last night disputed the notion that the bylaw is in any way a “money grab” by the town.
“This is really an attempt at safety, what was submitted to us,” said selectman Tristan Israel.
Mrs. Loberg agreed. “This is a custom across the Island, people renting their houses, many times just to make their mortgage, we don’t really want to disrupt that custom,” she said.
Fire chief John Schilling, who was part of the team that drafted the proposed bylaw, emphasized that it was for public safety, especially the safety of renters.
“Towns on the Cape, such as Falmouth and Dennis, have had this type regulation in effect since the mid to late nineties and it has worked well from the standpoint of public health and public safety,” Mr. Schilling said. “I would not stand in the way of the board or object strenuously to the board pulling this with understanding that we are going to keep it in forefront for the public vetting process and not putting it on hold.”
Mrs. Loberg backed the fire chief.
“I know that all three of these individuals [who drafted the bylaw] have been into properties that are nightmares from a public safety point of view, public health point of view,” she said. “I know I’ve been in some places like that too. And all of us as taxpayers are supporting the systems that try to keep our town healthy and safe. So I think this article really has to do with that, and not trying to get into the Airbnb stuff, or anything else.”
The selectmen voted unanimously to withdraw the article and begin to schedule public meetings.
Following the vote, selectmen Larry Gomez said he would insist on a strict timetable for the public discussions.
“When are we going to start doing this,” he said. “I don’t want to do it next February.”