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North Adams city council debates short term rental bylaw

North Adams, Massachusetts city hall.
Josh Landes
North Adams, Massachusetts city hall.

At its meeting Tuesday night, the North Adams, Massachusetts city council debated a short term rental bylaw draft before returning it to subcommittee.

Like other communities across Berkshire County, North Adams is attempting to finalize the language of a city ordinance that would regulate short term rentals. The latest draft prompted further discussion among the nine-member city council.

“In reviewing the recommendations and the way that this is still written, I don't think that this is written in a way that actually helps anybody. I think it's confusing," said Councilor Ashley Shade. “I think it also leaves out some important details that need to be addressed as well that aren’t addressed here, such as the number of short term rentals that can operate in the city at one time. For example, if somebody, a big developer, were to come in and buy 25 houses, well, now that's 25 houses that have been converted to short term rentals- And we already have a housing crisis in our community. So there needs to be some kind of a safeguard that prevents something like that from happening before this should be passed as well.”

Councilor Bryan Sapienza agreed.

“We need a balance between short term rentals and available housing for people who want to live in the city," he said. "I think that's very important that we need to have some type of system where we can balance that out so we can meet the needs of both our tourists, we are growing tourist area, and we are also growing in permanent population to a lesser degree, but we do need adequate housing for these people.”

Councilor Jennifer Barbeau found the concept of a short term rental bylaw entirely redundant.

“We would be creating an ordinance for something that's already in place, and we would be the only city in Massachusetts that I can find anywhere enforcing that building code ordinance with regard to short term rentals," she said. "There's clearly a building code challenge with what is redeemed a mini hotel, and what the difference between those two, a property and then this mini hotel. But I cannot see or support how North Adams would want to shut down what seems to be a technicality in the law, and as we've heard repeatedly, we should reach out to our state representatives, which I have been encouraging people to do, to figure out a way to make this law more accessible. But I do not see any reason that we need an ordinance to already enforce what I've clearly understood you to say is already the building code.”

“The reason why an ordinance is necessary is essentially to create the registration, because we need to know what units are being operated," said Shade. "There's not really a way to enforce the building code if we don't know where they are.”

“I don't think it's too much to ask of somebody who's doing a short term rental to have a certificate of compliance done on your apartment, on your unit, whatever it may be – house, apartment, room – once a year," said Building Inspector William Meranti. “If you're renting it every weekend or every week, that's pretty simple for the city to go in there and do this once a year to make sure you meet the minimum standard of life safety, and then you move on and you rent it. If it's this mini hotel, you're right. We don't need an ordinance. I don't need ordinance to enforce the building code. That's what I'm charged with doing.”

The short term rental bylaw draft was sent to the General Government subcommittee with the instruction to further simplify the six-page document and work in feedback from the council and other city boards.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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