How Laconia Is Confronting An Airbnb Boom
Marc Burrell, an Airbnb host in Laconia, describes his listing as a ‘no-frills room.’ It’s a spare bedroom in his house, which is a few blocks from downtown and a stone’s throw from Lake Winnisquam. And the room has been nearly booked solid all summer.
Short-term rentals like this have cropped up all over New Hampshire in recent years. In June, there were over 5,000 listings on Airbnb and VRBO in the state, most notably in popular tourist towns around the White Mountains, Lakes Region and the Seacoast.
These rentals, though, have caused problems in many communities throughout New Hampshire. Some neighbors have raised complaints about loud parties, absentee owners who live out of state and a changed sense to the neighborhood.
Laconia has recently stepped in as one of the first towns in New Hampshire to formally recognize and regulate short-term rentals.
The City Council voted to legalize short-term rentals in June. Before then, short-term rentals have been technically banned in Laconia, although city officials acknowledge that enforcement of this policy has been lax.
(Scroll to the end of this post for an interactive map of the top 10 Airbnb towns in N.H.)
Before the ordinance is fully rolled out, the city is debating over a number of rules for short-term renters. The most recent draft requires them to…
Pay a fee for fire inspections and an abutter’s notice.
Provide mandatory off-street parking.
Limit renting to 184 consecutive days or 18 guest visits (whichever comes first).
Renew their permit every year.
Laconia City Councilor David Bownes says the city started to consider cracking down on short-term rentals due to a handful of complaints about noise disturbances, garbage and parking.
“Those platforms have become very popular for some very good reasons with some very bad results in the communities that can’t control it,” said Bownes.
One of those good reasons is that short-term rentals can be an economic boon for renters and the surrounding area.
That’s why Burrell does Airbnb. He says meeting new people is a bonus, on top of the financial cushion it adds to his full-time job.
In the past year, short-term rental hosts made $162 million in revenue statewide, according to a website that tracks short-term rental data called AirDNA. The average host, who rents out a whole home in Laconia, can make anywhere from $800 - $4,000 a month.
The state government also profits by collecting Meals and Rooms tax off of these listings. In one year, the state earned $2.9 million from just Airbnb rentals alone.
Although the local government doesn’t profit from short-term rentals, Burrell argues that these listings can make tourist towns accessible to more people and thus provide a financial boost to the area.
“If one of my guests says ‘hey, where’s a good place to eat?” said Burrell. “The 405 Pub and Grill. They spend money, the 405 makes money and then it spends money.”
Burrell says a decent number of his guests are tourists and he has referred them to many of the local businesses.
When a Good Thing Goes Bad
Not everyone, however, has had the most positive experience with short-term rentals.
Sara Rosenbloom, who lives right on Opechee Bay in Laconia, says living next to a short-term rental was a major headache. After the Airbnb opened shop, problems surfaced almost immediately.
“The first weekend, they’d obviously been drinking and you could hear people arguing,” said Rosenbloom. “We have our windows open at night. It’s [usually] very quiet.”
Other weekends Rosenbloom heard late night karaoke, loud music out on the docks and car alarms
"Those platforms have become very popular for some very good reasons with some very bad results in the communities that can't control it." - Laconia City Councilor David Bownes
going off in the middle of the night.
The owner of this Airbnb lived out-of-state, making him hard to reach when issues came up. After this experience, her concerns center around absentee owners that buy up property as a business investment.
“When you have an absentee owner — someone just opening an Airbnb to make money — they don’t really have that investment in the neighborhood,” said Rosenbloom. “If someone lives on the property, they have an interest in preserving the neighborhood because they live there,” said Rosenbloom.
The local government has heard both sides and is trying to strike a middle ground that balances everyone’s concerns.
“People ought to be able to take advantage of Airbnb and VRBO if they do it in an appropriate way,” said Bownes. “If they’re willing to make sure that everybody is safe and make sure the neighborhood isn’t threatened in any adverse way.”
Enforcing the Rules
Councilor Bownes says one of the main benefits of the rules is to identify short-term rentals, so the city can contact hosts if complaints come up. However, the city has recognized that enforcing the rules and spotting short-term rentals without a permit might prove difficult.
As a result, Laconia is setting aside funds for a full-time code enforcement employee. The city will also require a local contact, whether the owner themself or a proxy, in the permit application.
Bownes acknowledges that there are limitations to this approach.
“We’re not going to be out policing everybody,” said Bownes. “What we’re going to do is require the application. We’re not going to be sending out people to be inspecting houses.”
Rosenbloom isn’t satisfied with that aspect of the proposal.
“The way the rules are written now, it sort of leaves the neighbors as enforcers,” said Rosenbloom. “None of us really want to be policemen. We don’t really want to keep an eye on what our neighbors are doing all the time.”
On the other hand, Marc Burrell, who is a long-term resident, feels that these rules came from complaints that don’t apply to him. He thinks the current proposal gives too much control to the government and his neighbors for what he considers a pretty innocent operation.
“My guests are respectful and they’re not in here smoking drinking and partying,” said Burrell. “They shouldn’t have the right to say whether I have the right to rent a room out in my house or not.”
Burrell says if the current draft of the rules pass, he’ll reluctantly follow them.
“I’m not hiding [my Airbnb],” said Burrell. “If the rules get ridiculous, I’ll just stop doing it. You know, I’ll just take in a roommate.”