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Sununu says bill to stop towns from banning short-term rentals would take away local control

A side street in North Conway at dusk
Casey McDermott
The debate over the future of New Hampshire's short-term rental market has been particularly sharp in the state's tourist communities, like Conway.

Gov. Chris Sununu said he’s wary of a proposed bill to stop towns and cities from banning short-term vacation rentals, like Airbnbs, echoing concerns from local officials who’ve said that it would chip away at towns’ autonomy on zoning and planning decisions.

“I’m afraid of the long term implications,” Sununu said at a Wednesday press conference. “And I also don’t like telling towns what they can and can’t do. If you believe in local control, you believe in local control.”

Sununu said he’s open to reviewing the bill’s final version, but he said anything that takes away flexibility from municipalities is “going down a wrong path.”

“That is having the state ban towns from controlling their own zoning ordinances and permitting ordinances,” Sununu said of the legislation. “And the state really doesn't do that. That's really a local decision.”

The proposal to outlaw bans on short-term rentals at the local level has support from the New Hampshire Association of Realtors and others with a stake in the vacation rental market, including those who have been the target of attempted bans and lawsuits in the Mount Washington Valley area. These supporters say the legislation would protect property rights and still allow municipalities to set rules for short-term rentals, without prohibiting them altogether.

“The only thing that SB 249 says is … you can’t ban them,” White Mountain Board of Realtors President Paul Mayer said, as reported by the New Hampshire Bulletin. “You can regulate the hell out of them, but you can’t ban them.”

But the legislation has also been criticized by local mayors, the New Hampshire Municipal Association and others who say it could exacerbate the state's housing crunch.

“If our supply was at a healthy level, if people could find a place to live, then sure, having some short-term rentals may make sense,” said Nick Taylor, executive director of the Workforce Housing Coalition of the Greater Seacoast, as reported by the Bulletin.

“But in a situation where we’re already so crunched, taking a tool away from communities that are trying to combat the housing crisis with smart local ordinances doesn’t make sense.”

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