Episode 70 Transcript: SHORT TERM RENTALS
CLARICE: Hello, everybody. Welcome to this week’s episode of Environmentally Speaking.
MARISA: Hi, everyone.
CLARICE: There’s that joy.
MARISA: I’m Marisa and I’m aggravated as hell this morning, so you’re getting aggravated version of me.
CLARICE: And I’m Clarice. I’m just going to go with it.
MARISA: Why is it that when you set yourself up for something and you’re organized none of it goes right and it’s technology and trying to get access to stuff online. I mean, you just — it will make you as mad as you want to be.
CLARICE: Isn’t there like an old adage where it’s like if you want to make God laugh make plans or something like that?
MARISA: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I want to throw this laptop out the window.
CLARICE: Good news, folks. If you would like to see us on video, we’re not glitchy today.
MARISA: Yeah. So that’s the thing. If you have been watching any of the previous episodes, I bought a brand new laptop. It’s a Dell and, man, what a piece of crap that thing is. Nothing works on it. You can’t hear me if I’m trying to do a virtual or a podcast and the video keeps seizing. It’s like it’s having a conniption fit. So I brought my old laptop back, my Fisher Price laptop.
MARISA: And nothing on it is working including trying to get paid access to an article that I really wanted to talk about this morning. So now we’re going to have to talk about the topic but without any real citations to something that our listeners can go and read for themselves.
CLARICE: I did find another article. Obviously I couldn’t get access to the first one.
MARISA: Nobody can get access to the first one. You know why, because they don’t want you to. They want you to put your credit card information in, but then they’re not going to give you the access.
CLARICE: You got school bus mad.
MARISA: Oh, my God.
CLARICE: My day is made. You are school bus mad.
MARISA: I’m angry. I’m so angry.
CLARICE: Yes. New favorite episode incoming.
MARISA: School bus mad.
CLARICE: Yes, for our listeners, if you haven’t heard it go back and listen to school bus admissions where I also lose my shit. So today —
MARISA: You did. You lost your mind about that one.
CLARICE: I did.
MARISA: At least you waited until the end of the episode to do it. Right out of the gates I am livid.
CLARICE: You’re coming out strong.
MARISA: All right. Can you just start talking because I’m not going to stop with my rant.
CLARICE: So speaking of coming out the gate mad, I’m sure that there are people in Rhode Island legislation who are pretty dang mad.
[0:03:00] MARISA: About?
CLARICE: We are talking today about short-term rentals in Rhode Island. Specifically there is a new Rhode Island requirement. I’m not sure if it’s officially or law or, you know, how we’re going to categorize that. But if you have, say, an Airbnb or a Vrbo, any sort of short-term rental in Rhode Island you have to register it.
MARISA: And I would love to give you more information on whether it’s a state law or just a requirement, but I can’t. You know why, because I can’t get access to any of the information. All right. Look, I’m going to go on a different website. It’s not going to be as comprehensive. So what we’re talking about here is Rhode Island’s short-term rental registry.
MARISA: And shout-out to the WPRI website because you can actually go on there and read about it.
CLARICE: And Boston Globe. We’ll include that one, as well.
MARISA: The Boston Globe, yes. We are not going to mention the stupid, stupid website that doesn’t work that I’ve wasted 30 minutes on today. According to WPRI the Department of Business Regulation is the state agency responsible for overseeing Rhode Island’s short-term rental registry. It officially launched in October of last year and it’s a product of state law, so this registration process is statutory. It’s mandatory.
CLARICE: But mandatory and being acted on, as we’ve recently read, isn’t one in the same.
MARISA: What do you mean?
CLARICE: So from what I’ve read, it seems that not all short-term rental locations have registered.
MARISA: Got ya.
CLARICE: And the organizations are estimating that a vast majority of folks who have these rentals have not yet registered and now it comes into — there is an enforcement clause. There is a fine. If memory serves I believe it’s $50 for your first 30 days of unregistration and then from 31 to day 60 it jumps up to $500 a day. And then from day 60 on it goes to $1,000. That’s a pretty steep consequence.
[0:05:53] MARISA: Yeah. I knew that it was maximum $1,000 penalty. What I find interesting is between the two online sources of information that I was able to look at the Department of Business Regulation said last year that if they found people out of compliance there would be a full administrative process.
MARISA: So that was last year’s quote. This year the information available online says that people are not registering and nothing is being done about it and that there really is no enforcement policy contemplated by the statute. So the Department of Business Regulation has no full administrative process. They only have the ability to issue a fine. Huge discrepancy there. A full administrative process to me means there’s an enforcement action issued. The party receiving that action has an opportunity to appeal and go through an administrative hearing. But it sounds like currently that no longer the position of the state.
CLARICE: And this brings up several other questions for me. First question is how do you find out who hasn’t registered? Is it an intern looking at the registry and then going onto Vrbo and Airbnb and seeing what’s listed?
MARISA: I notice that you’re saying Vrbo. I say V-r-b-o. Which one’s right?
CLARICE: Oh, I don’t know.
CLARICE: Well, we’ll go and look at a commercial.
MARISA: I imagine that there is some staff member at the state level that is tracking this information because at least the headlines are saying that folks are ignoring the state registry, so there’s got to be someone that’s tracking that information. The question is what’s being done about it.
CLARICE: Well, what’s being done about it is a good one. And then my other question is do you have any idea why they want folks to register? I don’t know. I haven’t looked into other states. I don’t know if all other states are requiring this or what that looks like, but what’s the goal behind having folks register?
MARISA: The thought is that if a property is registered it means that someone renting it can rent it with the confidence that it’s being run properly, that the state is aware of the property’s use as a short-term rental and not just a residential property. In my opinion and in my experience, the real oversight here is not occurring at the state level because the state is only requiring that you register. That’s the only mandate.
At the local level for communities that have a lot of short-term rental properties like Narragansett, Middletown, Providence, and Newport, there is more oversight and more enforcement. And the concept of the local level is that you want to make sure that local interests are being protected. I know that at least here on Aquidneck Island there is a constant dialogue going on where short-term rental owners are saying, this is my property, I have a right to use it so long as I’m compliant with zoning code.
[0:09:50] CLARICE: Uh-huh.
MARISA: And then you’ve got neighborhood groups and people that own property in a residential capacity that are saying, but my property interests and my right to enjoy — or excuse me — my right to experience peaceful enjoyment of my residential property is being impacted by essentially what is a commercial use. Some of these properties are just — they’re conveyer belts of new people coming in every weekend and every week during the summer months, so you’ve got an inherently conflicting use with properties right next to each other. It’s a very local issue because the cities and towns are entities that allow for and provide permits, variances, special use permits, and approvals for this type of use. That’s where you’re seeing a lot of the heated debate. The state process, again, is just a registry.
CLARICE: So that being said, knowing that right now the state had previously promised an administrative process and it looks like right now that’s not the case anymore, is there an administrative — or have you seen administrative processes at local level?
MARISA: You mean enforcement?
MARISA: Yes and no. Keep in mind that this issue of short-term rental usage is pretty new and we’re only starting to see that there are homeowners that are being impacted by it. It’s in the infancy. And I know at least in Middletown the town council put together a task force that studied the issue and came up with recommendations on how to modify its zoning ordinance. The administrative process, so to speak, really consists of complaints coming in.
Let’s say you’re a property owner and someone’s partying at 2:00 a.m. on a Tuesday night. You’ve got to go to work the next morning. You’re calling the cops. The police show up. They may or may not issue a citation. They take their noise meter with them to determine whether or not there’s a noise violation and then a citation can be issued to both the folks renting the property as well as the owner. And there is an appeal process associated with that depending on kind of where you are in the stage of the game. If you’re issued a warning, there’s no appeal with that obviously.
[0:12:51] CLARICE: Yeah.
MARISA: But if you’re issued a formal enforcement action with a fine and potentially a summons to appear, then, yes, you can appeal that.
CLARICE: And that brings me to another question. I would love to look at whether the enforcement or the regulations for short-term rental properties are stricter than those who are residents not renting. What does that balance look like. That would be an interesting follow-up.
MARISA: Well, so it is an interesting question because technically the use is residential. These properties are generally in residential zones. The concept of whether the activity truly is commercial in my experience hasn’t been adjudicated. So right now it’s a residential activity. The people renting are held to the same standard as the people living next to them. Did that answer your question, or am I just —
CLARICE: It did. That was helpful.
CLARICE: Now, unfortunately the two articles that we do have to look at don’t talk about any next steps on, you know, what the state is going to do to deal with this registry issue.
CLARICE: I’m just wondering if they’re just, you know, making the statement as, hey, it’s not been done, or if that’s actually going to be followed up with something, so.
MARISA: That remains to be seen. It will be up to the lobbying interests as well as what the state legislature decides to do next because the existing framework at the state law level doesn’t support anything else currently. It’s evolving. You know, it’s like any new area of law. Things change. Things also change with case law.
As far as I know we haven’t seen anything besides maybe two or three litigated matters in Rhode Island Superior Court, but I fully anticipate that once more requirements are put into place folks are going to start appealing them. You might see some injunctive relief as the summer months get closer and these requirements go into place. If they’re arduous or they prohibit people from listing their property on Airbnb or cities and towns are feeling like, we need to put a stop to this activity for public health and safety, you might start seeing more requests for help from the courts.
[0:15:56] CLARICE: All right. Well, it’s something to look out for in the summertime. Do you have any thoughts on short-term rentals? Is it something you use? I find it’s really polarizing. Some people either love using them or they have trust issues and will only stay in like a hotel or a property or anything like that.
MARISA: Oh, using them, no. I love an Airbnb. Are you kidding? I travel with my little hospice dog, so I like to have a little more privacy. And polarizing, when you were asking that question or starting to ask that question I thought you meant in terms of people that are owning and operating these properties. It’s so polarizing because there’s a huge amount of money at stake. I know that some folks that own and operate an Airbnb make a living off of it.
MARISA: There’s so much money to be made that you can treat it as — it’s not passive income because you have to coordinate all of that, but you can make a six-figure salary on short-term rentals.
MARISA: So you’ve got that interest coupled with — you know, that’s a very powerful interest coupled with people not being able to sleep and they got to go to work the following morning. That’s a very powerful interest. So at these town council meetings and zoning meetings, it’s a cat fight.
CLARICE: Yeah. And the mediator side of me is like, oh, I would love to sit and have a conversation to work that out.
MARISA: And let me just close by saying I don’t have a dog in the fight. I represent cities and towns, so I do have a lot of experience hearing both sides. But the topic alone for me today, I got so — my blood pressure went up so high just trying to get access to information about it that it’s now polarizing for me.
CLARICE: Now you’re just done. You’ve washed your hands of all sides. Everybody is wrong.
MARISA: No. It’s going to continue for the entire day. I’m just going to be yelling at people.
CLARICE: All right. So if you’ve worked with Marisa in the past or are planning to work with her today —
CLARICE: — call on Monday.
MARISA: Yeah. Maybe wait.
CLARICE: Well, let us know what your thoughts are. Have you used any of these short-term rental properties? Do you live near one? Is this personal to you in any way? I would love to get some more perspective on that. Where I live I’m near short-term rentals, but they’re a town over, so it doesn’t directly affect my neighborhood. So if it is in your area — I know we do have a lot of people on the island who listen — I would love to hear what that experience is like for you. You can let us know on social media at Desautel Law. We are on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. This video will be on YouTube because Marisa is not twitching, so we’re happy about that.
[0:19:15] MARISA: I’m not twitching in an electronic capacity. I’m twitching in an emotional capacity today.
CLARICE: Oh, I love that.
MARISA: One other little factoid I wanted to share that the state registry covers cities and towns throughout the state obviously. The town where I’m from, Foster, is one of the only towns that doesn’t have any Airbnb’s listed which I love because the irony there is I think there’s a three-acre minimum for residential properties in foster, so you could Airbnb all day long and no one would be aggravated. So of course there are no listings there.
CLARICE: Yeah. Oh, that’s a good one. Yeah. Foster is one of three. Do you remember the other two?
MARISA: Oh. Oh. Let me think. I’m going to go with West Greenwich.
MARISA: Also very rural.
MARISA: And I don’t know the third. What’s the third?
MARISA: Get out.
CLARICE: Yeah. Not a one. I figured there would be some. There are literally some right on the boarder.
MARISA: I think there was like one in Woonsocket.
CLARICE: Gloucester only has two.
CLARICE: I love it.
MARISA: Yeah. And another interesting and sad fact is that this is a legitimate problem in the state. I think I read about two or heard about two different Airbnb altercations that were bachelorette/bachelor party centric where either people at the Airbnb property or adjacent property owners versus people renting resulted in a shooting. People get pissed. People get really angry.
CLARICE: Oh, I was not expecting that.
CLARICE: Holy cow.
CLARICE: So if you plan on using an Airbnb, be kind to your neighbors. The owner has to stay there. You get to go home.
CLARICE: Don’t ruffle feathers.
MARISA: Yeah. Agreed.
CLARICE: I did stay for a bachelorette in Narragansett and it was this beautiful — it was actually a converted church. We got it on Airbnb. It was a giant space with a fantastic backyard. And instead of a chicken coop, I’m going to go ahead and call it a chicken palace. It was the biggest chicken enclosure that I’ve ever seen.
MARISA: Were there chickens in it?
CLARICE: Yes. Tons of them. It was gigantic and the sign over it said the Gucci gang and it was just massive. It made no sense. It did not match the space at all.
[0:22:09] MARISA: Yeah.
CLARICE: But it was just this chicken mansion.
MARISA: Did you go in it?
CLARICE: No. I’m terrified of birds.
MARISA: Come again?
CLARICE: Oh, no. Do not like birds.
MARISA: You’re terrified of birds?
CLARICE: No, thank you. Yes, I do not like.
MARISA: What kind of phobia is that?
CLARICE: They have dead eyes. That’s it. They have dead eyes. Like you can look at any other animal, dog, cat, farm animal, and like you know, are they in a good mood, are they in a bad mood, you know, are they aggressive, do they not want you to touch them. They are expressive. Chickens are not expressive. Birds are not expressive.
MARISA: Why are you making so much eye contact with chickens?
CLARICE: Because I’m trying to get a read, but I’m getting nothing. All right, guys.
MARISA: All right. That’s enough.
CLARICE: Send us an e-mail.
MARISA: I’ve had it.
CLARICE: Help@DesautelESQ.com. Have a good one.
MARISA: Thanks, everybody.