Pay Up: Winooski City Council approves new rules for short-term rentals

The Winooski Circle full of activity on a recent sunny day. Photo by Catherine Morrissey

The rule requires short-term rental hosts to register with the city, apply for a license and, if approved, pay annual fees.

by Jonah Frangiosa, Community News Service The Winooski City Council has adopted new regulations for short-term rentals, including a steeper annual licensing fee for owners who don’t live on the property.

The new rules, which the council approved earlier this month, define the categories of short-term rental properties, such as Airbnb sites, as either owner-occupied or non-owner-occupied. Hosts have to register with the city and apply for a license. Non-occupying owners will pay an annual fee of $1,400, up from the council’s initial proposed fee of $1,000. The fee for hosts who live in the home where they offer short-term rentals is $250 per year.

The council also passed a new rule that allows the city to cap the amount of non-owner-occupied short-term rental licenses. No cap is currently in place.

Council members first began discussing new short-term rental regulations in June last year in an effort to limit the number of such units in the city. Municipalities across Vermont and the country have tried to address the proliferation of short-term rentals, which housing advocates tend to view as an impediment to addressing severe housing shortages, because they replace available options for long-term rentals. Burlington passed its own slate of short-term rental rules in 2022.

Short-term rental properties in Winooski must be listed on the city’s public building registry, assuring that they have met inspection standards. Owners also must hold a meals and rooms license from the state Department of Taxes and a certificate of insurance.

The council’s amendments give owners 14 business days to comply with the new requirements. Failure to comply could result in loss of the short-term rental license for a registration year, which runs from July 1 to June 30.

The council discussed the proposed regulations during its Feb. 5 meeting, then allowed for public comments on the changes on Feb. 20 before voting unanimously to pass them.

Nick Brownell, a 27-year-old Winooski resident who advocates for tenants’ rights, is running for an open council seat and came to the Feb. 5 meeting to learn about the new regulations. “I’m happy to hear from our city council,” Brownell said in an interview after the meeting. “They’re, in my opinion, recommending good choices.”

Brownell, who uses they/them pronouns, moved to Winooski from Albany, N.Y., in 2021 and lives in an apartment with their partner. They wanted to make sure that the proposed changes wouldn’t interfere with the rights of renters.

Brownell also has advocated for a “just cause” eviction ordinance in Winooski that would require landlords to state a legitimate reason before evicting a tenant. In March last year, 70% of Winooski voters approved the “just cause” initiative in a ballot referendum. The initiative still needs a second council vote to go into effect.

Jonah Frangiosa reported this story for The Winooski News. The Community News Service is a program in which University of Vermont students work with professional editors to provide content for local news outlets at no cost.

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