“Using services like Airbnb and Vrbo to book farm stays were just critical to getting us where we’re at today. It helped us put food on the table, pay our property taxes, put a downpayment on our first tractor, plant our first field of lavender, even our booth that we had down at the farmers market down the mountain. That stuff wouldn’t happen without Airbnb and we were grateful to have the extra income,” Eric Stralow said through teary eyes before the Marlborough Town Board Monday evening.
The Marlborough resident and his wife bought their farm six years ago, and turned to home-sharing apps to ease the financial strain. Stralow said that local short term rental laws, which regulate how a resident can offer their home as a vacation destination through Airbnb and Vrbo, ultimately give people the ability to fend for themselves.
Brigette Supernova related to Stralow’s struggles, especially since the pandemic struck, she said at the board’s Feb. 22 public hearing on the short term rental law draft.
“I had two jobs last year, but due to Covid I’ve lost both of those streams of income,” she said, expressing her concern that the proposed law has too many regulations. “I’d like to see this at least start off a little less restrictive because it’s a small town, there’s not a lot of people interested in this. The more we’re willing to open up some of these options and possibilities, we can see how it works and for what’s not working add amendments or raise fees later.”
She offered several recommendations: changing the word “dwelling” to “accommodations” as a way to describe any infrastructure enclosed from the elements; redefining the maximum capacity rule that’s capped at two people per bedroom to two people per bed or by square footage; revising the minimum number of days units can be rented per year; allowing for one to apply on behalf of an owner for inclusivity purposes; striking out the requirement to be a resident of Marlborough; restricting the check-in and quiet hours and more. Supernova also suggested lowering the $550 annual permit fee to be considered a short term rental, which was an item already listed on the meeting agenda.
Town Supervisor Al Lanzetta and Councilman Howard Baker agreed that the proposed fee could be too lofty for some folks, especially when considered with the added $750 escrow fee, $100 fire inspection fee and other expenses. Councilman Allan Koenig didn’t find the amount excessive because current listings for area Airbnbs were found to range from $200 to over $500 per night. The renters could make up the fee expenses in a night or two, he argued.
Despite the debate, the board did not take a final stance on the application certification price and decided to continue weighing the options.
Prompted by a question by Baker, Building Inspector Tom Corcoran clarified that tiny houses would not be eligible for short term rentals because they’re “illegal.”
“Just so you know there’s no such thing as a tiny house. That’s a trailer. It’s a camper and it’s not allowed ... It’s governed under the trailer under DMV,” he explained. Corcoran added that he’s aware of two tiny house trailers operating as Airbnbs in Marlborough, both of which he has written up and is taking to court once the courts reopen again.
To close out the public hearing portion of the meeting, Ron Tatelbaum asked whether the local law would protect neighbors whose properties border short term rentals. Lanzetta, acknowledging that Tatelbaum had experienced substantial issues with noisy neighbors in the past, said he believed it did.
Police Chief Jerry Corozza said that noise complaints are generally hard to prove because a certain decibel has to be reached before police action can be warranted. With the proposed law, however, a lot of “latitude for enforcement” would be established.
“Moving forward with three of those [noise] complaints now through the Building Department, there’s further action for removal of the certificate, the closing of the business that can be forced or levied,” Corozza said. “There’s a lot more consequences for the homeowner doing this business. Much easier to prove in court.”
The public hearing on short term rentals will remain open until the March 8 meeting.
Planning board terms
In other board business, the Marlborough Town Board adopted a resolution to stagger the term end rates of the seven member Planning Board members so that no more than two would expire per year. Baker was the only member to vote against the resolution, instead favoring raising the terms from five years to seven, which would allow no more than one term to end a year.
The board unanimously approved introducing the law enforcement recommendations made by the Town of Marlborough Police Reform Committee. The report, which includes arrest data, training information and reform recommendations, will be made accessible prior to the March 8 public hearing. The board also unanimously appointed Gina Kehoe and Chrisptopher Hamel as the police force’s newest part time officers.