Under Newport law, people can operate short-term rentals in residential areas if they receive a special use permit from the Newport Zoning Board of Review. On Wednesday evening, however, the city council voted unanimously to ban such properties in residential areas. The proposed changes will also require short-term rental hosts to obtain a special use permit to operate in the city’s limited business districts, where such properties were previously permitted.
The move is part of a wider effort in Newport to tackle short-term rentals and their impact on the resort destination’s stretched housing stock. As Airbnbs have become more widespread, the city has hired a short-term rentals compliance officer to crack down on the roughly 180 unregistered properties suspected of operating illegally. Earlier this year, Newport lawmakers championed the passage of a state-level bill that requires owners of short-term rentals to register with the Department of Business Regulation of the United States. State, under penalty of financial penalties.
“I have people asking me every week, ‘Oh, this house is for sale. I know it’s going to be fine for an Airbnb,” said Newport Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano. “It affects everything. It affects neighborhoods, families, parking, people who want to live in Newport.
It’s unclear, however, what effect this ban on new Airbnbs in residential areas might have on Newport neighborhoods.
According to a presentation from city staff last October, only 10 short-term rentals had obtained special use permits in the previous five years. The much bigger problem, according to local officials, is the number of unregistered rentals that operate under the radar.
While banning new short-term rentals in residential areas won’t change the fact that these properties are already operating illegally, developers say an outright ban would make it easier for neighbors to identify and report these rentals. illicit.
“It’s not an earth-shattering decision for a large group of people,” said Newport resident Penelope Hunt, who spoke at the city council meeting on Wednesday. “But I think having a special use permit option in residential areas confuses the issue for a lot of residents. You know, people say, ‘Well, I just thought that house had a permit .”
At a public hearing on Wednesday, a number of Newport residents spoke out both in favor and against the proposed zoning change. A few residents who currently operate Airbnbs said they relied on revenue from those businesses, with one adding that the city “is headed a little too far in the anti-[short-term rental] direction.”
Newport City Attorney Christopher Behan, however, said city officials have not observed a large number of Airbnb owners who rely on their businesses to afford to stay on the island.
“We don’t find what we call the ‘mom and pop’ — the person who really needs short-term rentals to get by,” Behan said. “We see people making a lot of money.”
Newport zoning still allows residents to rent up to two bedrooms in residential zones, if the owner lives in the house. Under the new rules, short-term rentals that already hold active special use permits in residential areas will also be grandfathered.
City Council member Angela McCalla supported the zoning changes, but also called for a broader study of the housing market and displacement factors in Newport.
“I think we’re dealing with the symptom and not necessarily the problem in terms of housing,” McCalla said. “Yes, short-term rentals could be one aspect, but there are a lot of them that prevent many of our year-round residents from being able to occupy our homes.”
At the moment, however, there is a consensus within Newport City Council that tighter regulation of short-term rentals is long overdue. The zoning changes will require a second reading later this month before taking effect.
“It’s been so long since the old councils did anything about this, or the current zoning couldn’t do anything about this,” council member Charlie Holder said. “If we don’t do something now, if it’s not already too late, then we might as well turn this whole town into a commercial district and go there.”
Antonia Ayres-Brown is a Newport bureau reporter for The Public’s Radio. She can be reached at [email protected]