Gilford cracks down on problem vacation renters

The Laconia Daily Sun
Published: 1/8/2022 1:28:52 PM
Modified: 1/8/2022 1:28:06 PM

GILFORD — Loud talking and raucous laughter until 2 a.m. Fifteen to 20 cars parked in front of one home. Beer cans and liquor bottles tossed in neighbors’ yards. Garbage piled outside, scattered by animals overnight. A spike in community water usage of almost 40%.

Any one of these might be considered a problem or crisis. When added together, they become a round-the-clock nightmare-in-residence.

“It’s unbearable. I call the police every weekend,” said Dave Andrews, who bought his year-round home in Gunstock Acres in 2017. In this community of 650 to 700 property owners, and elsewhere in the Lakes Region, short term vacation rentals have exploded since COVID, collapsing peace and private enjoyment for a number of year-rounders.

“They have a hot tub over there, and they’re out all night screaming and yelling. We have alcohol containers in our yard all summer long. We can’t sit outside and have a conversation because of noise. I have to keep all the windows shut and the TV on to get some sleep,” said Andrews.

“It’s tantamount to a motel spread over a bunch of houses,” said Gilford’s planning board chair, Wayne Hall. “Some are turning into party properties.”

For affected homeowners, help may be on the way – in the form of municipal regulations with teeth.

New rules regarding short term rentals have been proposed by the Gilford Planning Board to curb egregious vacation rental problems before they get out of hand, and hold absentee or corporate landlords more accountable for tenant violations, enabling town officials to call someone in charge when things go wrong – and at any time of day or night in emergencies.

Under the proposed code changes, non-resident owners who rent houses to vacationers for up to 30 consecutive days will be required to get conditional use permits that last for three years. Snowbirds and owners who live at their properties for six or more months of the year will be exempt. Changes in noise and parking ordinances will give local police new abilities to charge violators.

The Gilford Planning Board will vote on the proposed changes following a public hearing on Jan. 19 at 7 p.m. at the Gilford Town Office. A final draft will advance to town meeting on March 8 and ultimately be decided by voters.

It’s a problem that has snowballed over the last two years, according to town officials, beleaguered neighbors and police.

“It only takes three or four houses like that to create a problem,” Hall said. “Neighbors have been picking up beer cans up and down the street.” Some roads have become difficult to navigate because of the number of cars that parked overnight.

Other health and safety issues worry town officials. Is the number of occupants packed into some houses overloading septic and water systems? “You don’t want 20 people crashing at a place that can handle eight at best,” said Chan Eddy, the Gilford Select Board’s representative to the Planning Board. “It’s one thing if it’s for a weekend, but not for a whole week.”

Gilford Police say there’s been an uptick in complaints, including in the last year, but it’s difficult to track how many calls pertain to vacation rentals, said Deputy Chief Kris Kelley. Complaints have come from other parts of town, too, he said, and the department is collecting data.

When someone’s using a vacation rental “there’s a vacation mentality associated with that,” Kelley said. The challenge becomes balancing the interests of property owners and residents. “The town is trying to give us better tools to handle it and keep everybody happy.”

For some who live in Gunstock Acres, changes can’t come soon enough. The Air BNB and VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) revolution in short term rentals that are booked online set off a cascade of abuses and annoyances that diminish peace and quality of life, they say.

For the Andrews, who are in their late 40s and early 50s, the shifting tenants who party almost non-stop in three rental houses near their Cross Lane home have become a source of conflict, a stress elevator and an endurance test – not to mention a sanity breaker. “I’ve gotten into a confrontation with some of the drunk people. We get things thrown at us and we get yelled at,” he said.

He and his wife have called Gilford Police regularly after 10 p.m., even during the week, on nights before they head to work the next morning. Police park outside and ask the partiers to quiet down. But there is no applicable ordinance to enforce, no citations to write or fines to collect – just a hope of cooperation.

“There are regulations for amplified music, but not for voices, loud partying or laughing,” said Hall.

Things can turn sour on summer days, too. “When relatives come up, the kids can’t play outside because of the profanities” uttered by some of the renters, said Andrews. When his older neighbors across the street drive up on the weekends, “They just want peace and quiet. It’s their retirement home.” He said other neighbors are bothered and worried but are afraid to complain.

Contacting the property owners, which include corporate entities based in Massachusetts and New York, has netted scant results, Andrews said. “They make a lot of empty promises. Then it just escalates.”

His wife Diane brought sound recordings, videos, photographs and police reports to prove to planning board officials that the nuisance vacation rental nightmare is real and escalating.

“Some are decent people. Others are a problem,” said Gunstock Acres resident Howard Epstein.

Epstein, who is commissioner of the Gunstock Acres Village Water District, said the community’s water use has surged in the last five years, increasing from peak daily usage of 60,000 gallons to 85,000. That’s partly because more people are living here full time, Epstein said. But he believes the data indicates it’s mostly because of water usage by short term renters. The water district will have to raise its rates, he said, and is considering higher prices for those properties.

Gilford’s goal is create a framework that will allow code enforcement. The proposed changes are still in the fine-tuning phase, with language carefully crafted by the town’s lawyer, and will be available for members of the public to review on Friday or Monday next week, said John Ayer, the town’s director of planning and land use.

Andrews and others hope the new regulations will muster support at town meeting. “Hopefully, so we can have a little bit of sanity,” he said.

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