Revise the Wilmington short-term rental law

To the editor:

Cities and towns across the U.S. are grappling with how to manage short-term rentals (STRs). While STRs can have a positive effect on a community by increasing tax revenues and tourism, they also can create significant problems by decreasing the quality-of-life at neighboring properties or decreasing the availability of longer-term rentals for locals. They change the character of neighborhoods because you no longer know the people living next door, who change frequently. STRs can become “party houses,” with noisy, disruptive occupants.

We commend the town of Wilmington for developing an STR law. However, as they say, the devil is in the details.

As currently written, the law does not go far enough to either maximize the revenues that could be obtained from these rentals or to protect the residents who do not rent. While the town supervisor and town council members contend that the regulations are only a starting point and can be changed, it is not clear when they will be changed. If permits are issued based on the current law, these permits will be in place for two years, during which time the opportunity to collect more revenue (and thus benefit) for the town and to prevent problems caused by STRs will be lost. We urge the town to write a better law before beginning its implementation.

As written, the charge for a two-year permit is $300 plus $50 for each bedroom/sleeping area. This is incredibly low, given that many of the whole-home STRs in Wilmington rent for $300 per night or higher. In addition, some rentals have multiple beds in a bedroom/sleeping area, yet it is $50 regardless of whether there is one bed or six beds in the room. The town should restructure its fees so that STRs operated as businesses contribute more to defraying the cost of implementing and enforcing the law. Owner-occupied STRs, or STRs operated infrequently, should pay lower fees.

It is inappropriate that the “good neighbor” noise policy is merely a recommendation in the current law, rather than being codified in a way that it can be enforced. In our experience, the large short-term rentals that sleep anywhere from 10-16 people, and which have increased in number, are a major problem. As an example of the intrusion of STRs into a neighborhood, in slightly less than a half mile along our road, we have four STRs that are advertised as accommodating a total of 33 people. During the summer, we frequently hear excessive noise from renters that often lasts until midnight or later. Regardless of whether it is one STR or four STRs, excessive noise can be a problem, and Wilmington’s STR law should be revised to include an enforceable means for protecting neighbors (residents or other renters) from this noise.

Space does not permit us to list all of our concerns with the law as currently written, such as overloaded septic systems. We strongly urge the town council and town supervisor to revisit the law before issuing any permits.

Linda Shuster

Bill Wonderlin



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