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Berlin passes short-term rental amendment

By Jack Chavez, Staff Writer

Berlin Town Administrator Jeff Fleetwood, right, discusses licensing issues for short-term rentals with Councilmembers Shaneka Nichols and Troy Purnell last year.

(Sept. 15, 2022) The Berlin Mayor Town Council unanimously passed an amendment to the short-term rental ordinance following a public hearing during its meeting Monday night.

The amendment changes the language regarding zones where short-term residential rentals are permitted: districts R-1, R-2, R-3, R-4 and B1-3.

“The old language said … it had to be your permanent residence in all (of those) districts,” Planning Director Dave Engelhart said. “And really, with the B-1, which is the town center district, B-2, which is your shopping district and most of our commercial, there wouldn’t be any permanent residents, so there’s no need for that language. It was a mistake.

“Initially it started that there were some people who wanted to prohibit short-term rentals altogether in the residential districts … And then there had to be a way, we thought, of limiting how many units you could have as a short-term rental — for outside investors, let’s say, who buy up a whole street.”

The new language states that the rentals are permitted within the R-1 and R-2 districts as well as the R-3, R-4, B-1, B-2 and B-3 districts but that “Rental units in any zoning district must also comply with the requirements for dwelling units contained in the code of the Town of Berlin, Chapter 108 … and Chapter 6.”

The purpose of the short-term rental ordinance, as defined in the code, is to “maintain the character of residential neighborhoods in the town of Berlin and to protect the health, safety and general welfare of residents while allowing short term (sic) rentals to exist under certain conditions and circumstances.”

Ten residents took the opportunity to speak their minds before the final vote, several of whom asked for clarifications about the amendment and the ordinance in general.

“If it says you have to be a resident for 180 days and then you have 185 days after that (until) your home can be rented, but you can only rent in 28-day increments, what about people that come in and want to rent month after month after month?” asked Berlin resident Kim Holloway. “Does it renew every 28 days? What is the verbiage there? Like there needs to be some clarity, where people would consecutively rent, how that would work out because I don’t see it in writing here.”

Engelhart responded that, typically, landlords rent on single-year, six-month and month-to-month bases. He went on to explain that the state room tax dictates the 28-day increments and as such the room tax can be charged.

“On a conventional rental or lease, (the landlord does not) collect tax from (the tenant) as (an) overnight guest or tenant and neither can the county,” Engelhart explained. “So the short-term is set at 28 (days) because when we collect room tax as you would at a motel or hotel, it allows that. A different agreement is supposed to be done by the short-term rental owner by the 29th day. If you have someone who’s staying all summer, they would have to refresh that every 28 days.”

Resident Ann Marie received a round of applause following her testimony in which she asked the mayor and council to keep the core of Berlin — its residents, taxpayers and voters — in mind.

“I didn’t buy on Main Street or a business district to have transient, fluid (population), flowing through my neighborhood,” she said. “I want the safety of my neighborhood, I want my neighbors looking after each other like we have all these years. I do understand that people have bought second homes but there is another option. There are families you see all over, people wanting to rent a home year-round. They have children … They want to be in Berlin and they want to be close to our schools. The people who have bought second homes, go ahead and rent them to families who are desperately looking for homes in this area. So there’s an option. Keep us in mind, we’re the ones who are here all the time.”

Ryan Nellans, a Berlin resident, small business owner and chamber of commerce administrator, brought up the curious case of his house, which is residential but sits within the B-1 district.

“Now if this goes through,” he asked, what’s stopping the downtown business district (from) expanding to the house behind me?”

Engelhart allayed his reservations, explaining that his home and the homes around it were grandfathered in and their exception could be revoked if the tenants ever moved out and left the homes unattended.

(The original town planners) wanted to preserve (the aesthetic of the business districts) when they created them,” he replied. “Your particular use in the B-1 was already a house. Your house is a lot older than our town. So when they mapped out the main business arteries … there were residences, but they had to bring the business district out a certain distance. So they made yours B-1 but allowed it to continue as an R-1 residential use. If you moved out of there for a year or more and nobody ever occupied it again, the next use would have to be B-1. That’s how the code was written.”