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North Adams City Council Hears Draft Of Short-Term Rental Bylaw

A screenshot of a Zoom meeting
Josh Landes
The North Adams, Massachusetts virtual city council meeting on August 25th, 2020.

North Adams, Massachusetts has put forward a draft of new municipal bylaws that would regulate short-term rentals.

Currently, short-term rentals are unregulated in North Adams – as they are in the largest Berkshire County community, Pittsfield, 20 miles to the south.

A 2018 state law gave Massachusetts municipalities the right to regulate and tax short-term rentals – or STRs.

“It allows municipalities to levy a community impact fee of up to 3% of the total amount of rent for each transfer of occupancy of a professionally managed short-term rental unit, and separately a short-term rental unit in a two-family or three-family dwelling that includes the operator’s primary residence, provided that no less than 35% of the community impact fee received shall be dedicated to either affordable housing or local infrastructure projects or a combination there of,” said Zach Feury of the city’s community development office, who presented the bylaw draft to the city council at Tuesday night’s meeting. “In developing the draft ordinance, the city staff and Berkshire Regional Planning Commission staff reviewed prior local discussion, the enabling legislation, existing municipal regulations, and such cities and towns as Cambridge, Chelsea, Salem and Lenox, among others.”

Feury noted that the differences between North Adams and those communities were as much a factor in the bylaw’s development as the commonalities.

“So the draft ordinance operates to define the purpose of short-term rental regulations in North Adams, which is to protect the safety and wellbeing of North Adams residents and visitors, to ensure that the primary use of housing remains residential, and to ensure that the short-term rental of residential units will not be a detriment to the character and livability of the surrounding residential neighborhoods,” said Feury.

The draft defines three kinds of STRs.

“The first is operator occupied STRs, which are short-term rental units managed by an operator who is the primary resident of the dwelling unit," explained Feury. "Second is owner-adjacent short-term rentals, which are STRs that are not the primary residence of the operator but are located within a building owned by the operator and containing the operator’s primary residence. Last is professionally managed short-term rentals, which are STRs located within a building that does not contain the operator’s primary residence and the management of which is conducted by a local agent in charge.”

STRs wouldn’t be allowed in affordable housing and airport zoning districts, and professionally managed units would require a special permit from the planning board. Any properties subject to three or more code violations of any city or state law related to noise, improper trash disposal, or other nuisances within the last six months would be banned from operating an STR.

“As well as properties with unpaid taxes, water, sewer bills, or other existing judgements or penalties imposed by the city,” said Feury.

Any dwelling where the police have been called to four or more times within the prior year for any incident involving an arrestable offense is also a disqualifier, as well as any dwelling that has received two or more inspection or board of health complaints within the last six months.

Additionally, all STRs must be registered with the city and meet building code requirements.

Councilor Lisa Hall Blackmer said the prohibition on operating STRs at residences that have received visits from the police might end up penalizing victims of domestic abuse seeking to make ends meet after a violent partner leaves the home.

“Not that I want to get into being a court or anything, but there should be some kind of appeals process,” she said.

The draft was sent to the council’s community development subcommittee to be returned for discussion at the September 29th city council meeting.

Tuesday’s meeting also marked the first for City Councilor Peter Oleskiewicz, who replaced Robert Moulton, who resigned in July after making offensive comments on his local TV program.

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