MASHPEE — The Mashpee Board of Health is proposing new regulations to address the impact of online rentals like Airbnb, but they could come with a steep price for landlords and owners of rental property.
The regulations would require homeowners to obtain a rental certificate, requiring the property to be regularly inspected for health and safety hazards, and that owners pay fees for violations and noncompliance, according to a recent draft of the policy.
Registration would cost $300 and would have to be renewed annually. The fee would cover four "dwelling" units, which would increase $50 for every additional unit. Glen Harrington, a 16-year health agent on the board, said the new regulations were drafted in response to complaints about overcrowding, noise and transience from neighbors of the rentals. The new rules apply to all rental property owners, not just Airbnbs.
The discussion of the new rules comes just days after the state Senate passed a version of a short-term rental tax bill, which would establish a 5-percent tax on all short-term rentals, including hotels, motels, bed-and-breakfasts, cottages, and vacation homes and room rentals.
Harrington contends the board, which is staffed by only three individuals, has been backlogged with complaints arising from Airbnb usage in town. He says they are tracking some 400 of the short-term rentals in Mashpee that are advertised online. Money from the rental certificate fee would go toward hiring more staff, specifically another assistant health agent, he said.
Locating online rentals can be enormously time consuming. Thomas Mckean, the director of Barnstable’s Board of Health, said many municipal health departments across the state are short-staffed, and the process of having to track down rentals and corral renters for inspections can be an added strain.
“Part of the cost is tracking them down,” Mckean said. “Someone has to search the internet, search newspapers. There’s lots of research, and a lot of time and effort goes into it.”
The town of Barnstable has required owners of rental property to register annually with health officials since 2006, according to Mckean. Registration with Barnstable costs $90 for the first unit and $25 for every additional one per year.
Harrington said Mashpee’s proposed regulations will provide some basic oversight where there currently is none.
“It will put a process in place,” he said. “Mashpee is late in the game in terms of getting a rental regulation in place. Barnstable has two full-time inspectors, a full-time clerk and over 2,700 rentals on the books.”
Mashpee selectmen opted not to put the draft rules on the annual town meeting warrant, so they are still subject to change, Harrington said.
During a health board meeting April 5, some residents took exception to the proposed $300 annual fee, calling it excessive.
In a letter written to the health board, resident Alexander Watt said the proposed regulations are “nothing more than a new revenue source” aimed at hiring an additional employee.
“This is not a proper purpose for such fees,” Watt wrote, “Additional staff should be voted on, approved and funded by the town through its general revenue.”
The Cape and Islands Association of Realtors also sent a letter to the health board, arguing that a shortage of rental properties on Cape Cod would be made worse by piling on more rules and regulations. Ryan Castle, the group’s chief executive officer, wrote the proposed regulations would restrict property rights by giving town government the power to take away the right to rent.
“They’re taking your right and saying it’s now a privilege,” Castle said Tuesday.
Citing data from a recent Cape Cod Commission analysis, Castle said there were 122 fewer rental units needed last year to satisfy the demands of individuals with an income of up to $48,534.
“I’ve seen no empirical data that renters are the problem,” Castle said. “Homeowners can cause just as many problems.”
Thomas O'Hara, chairman of Mashpee's Board of Selectmen, said board members have a number of concerns with the new regulations, including the proposed fee.
"They first came to us saying they were looking for a $300 inspection fee," O'Hara said, "and that’s when we put the brakes on."
— Follow Tanner Stening on Twitter: @tsteningCCT.