Burlington City Council approves sweeping restrictions on short-term rentals

The Burlington City Council has disqualified up to 80% of short-term rental properties currently listed on sites such as Airbnb. Screenshot

BURLINGTON — Two and a half years after debating how to regulate the type of accommodation advertised on sites such as Airbnb and Vrbo, the city is on the verge of cracking down on its short-term rental industry.

In an 8-2 vote, the Burlington City Council passed an ordinance late Monday disqualifying up to 80% of the city’s short-term rentals, since they occupy an entire house, apartment or condo.

Of Burlington’s 250 to 300 short-term rentals, about 81 percent are whole units, according to data provided by the city. These units — unless they meet exceptions the council has created to promote affordable housing — are soon poised to violate city housing codes.

As a result, short-term accommodation providers can only market rooms from their main residence, apart from these few conditions.

The most significant exception allows landlords who own a multi-unit building to rent one of them as a whole-unit short-term rental, so long as the building also contains a unit that houses a resident who meets the city’s “inclusive zoning” standard, or someone who receives federal or state housing assistance.

Properties that are only equipped for the warmer months and “secondary accommodation” – residential units, such as family suites, that are built on the property of an existing home – are also exempt from the ban, according to the order.

In addition to limiting the number and type of short-term rentals a host can operate, the ordinance imposes a 9% tax on such listings. These revenues will be directed to a municipal fund dedicated to the development of affordable housing.

The ordinance still needs to be signed by Democratic Mayor Miro Weinberger and approved by the Planning Commission before being signed into law.

The order was almost identical to a proposal that councilors canceled in March. But after Weinberger vetoed a Progressive-backed measure that would have clamped down on short-term rentals even further, Councilman Joe Magee, P-Ward 3, switched sides and voted “yes” on Monday.

Councilman Gene Bergman, P-Ward 2, said he opposed the exemptions offered by the ordinance but voted for it anyway, praising its creation of a registry for short-term rentals.

Councilors Jack Hanson, District P-East, and Councilor Joan Shannon, District D-South, voted against the ordinance, saying it did not go far enough in regulating the industry. (Councillors Ali House, P-Ward 8, and Perri Freeman, P-Central District, were absent).

Shannon, who led the stricter order that Weinberger vetoed, expressed support for the current short-term rental regulatory framework, which requires properties to receive permits as “bed and breakfast » occupied by the owner.

In addition to owner occupancy, B&Bs must go through a public application process that involves the city’s Development Review Board. Getting rid of that requirement, Shannon warned his colleagues, would prevent neighbors from weighing in on the potential for a short-term rental opening next to them.

“Short-term rentals will receive even higher status through this exemption and will only join two other high-priority uses that the city wants to encourage, namely child care and urban agriculture,” Shannon said.

But supporters said the ordinance would balance the demand for hotel alternatives with the city’s desperate need for affordable housing. Officials say Burlington has a vacancy rate of less than 1% for long-term rentals.

“There are significant benefits with the presence of short-term rental units,” said Councilman Ben Traverse, D-Ward 5, who sponsored the ordinance. “On the other side of this issue, we have a housing crisis. And I think it’s important that this council take action to deal with this crisis and to increase the city’s housing stock.

Julie Marks, founder and director of the Vermont Short-Term Rental Alliance, applauded the ordinance’s affordable housing provisions. But in a statement to VTDigger after the meeting, she said her group did not support the 9% tax levied on short-term rentals, arguing that the percentage was unfair compared to the 2% tax rate on rooms. of hotel.

“The (Alliance) does not support the unbalanced tax burden imposed on visitors who wish to stay in vacation rentals rather than hotels,” Marks said. “It doesn’t fit the feeling of ‘leveling the playing field’.”

Traverse and the ordinance’s supporters said the ordinance would not solve the housing crisis in Burlington. But, they said, it was a step in the right direction.

“The best thing we can do for the housing crisis is to act on something tonight so we can move on to bigger issues that will have more impact,” Traverse said.

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