Brewster Town Meeting Rejects Short-term Rental Regs

November 15, 2023

BREWSTER – In the near term, short-term rentals won’t be regulated in Brewster.

Monday’s special town meeting voted to indefinitely postpone articles 13 and 14 that would’ve required short-term rental (STR) operators to register with the town for $150 a year by Feb. 28, and comply with a set of regulations on parking, occupancy (two per bedroom) and trash removal. Article 14 would’ve limited ownership of STR’s to two for a Brewster resident and to one for nonresidents.

All of the warrant’s remaining articles passed (see page 6 for details).

Short-term rentals are units and homes that are rented for less than 30 days at a time, often via the internet, to vacationers, wedding parties, family reunions and such. In recent years the number of such units has gone up; officially Brewster has 1,092 according to Matilda Delano, who filed articles 13 and 14 as citizen petitions. That amounts to 15 percent of Brewster’s housing stock.

“For years I’ve waited and hoped the town would take action,” Delano said. “But I got tired of waiting. Chatham, Orleans, Eastham and Provincetown have regulations in place. Registration allows the town to track short-term rentals.”

She said Brewster could monitor the impact on water quality and the neighborhood.

“With the $150 fee you’d get over $150,000 to fund the program. Chatham has a full-time person to oversee short term-rentals for $60,000 a year,” she said.

The rest of the money raised could be used for software and other monitoring expenses.

“This restricts short-term rentals to one per owner unless you are a Brewster resident. Great Barrington and Provincetown have restrictions similar to those proposed in Brewster,” Delano said.

“The purpose is to create balance in the housing market,” she said. “This would stop property owners from running mini hotels in the town of Brewster. Less than 200 people would be impacted by the regulations.”

That figure is based on the number of people who rent multiple properties in town. So Delano said the actual number of owners impacted could be much less than 200.

She noted the lack of affordable housing has caused families to leave Brewster. School enrollment has declined 45 percent over the last 30 years even as the population has gone up 22 percent. Year-round rentals are very hard to find, she said.

At the advice of the town counsel, language in both articles was revised and Delano introduced the amended language from the floor.

The finance committee voted 8-0 against both articles.

“A bylaw should be extensively debated and vetted prior to the meeting,” Pete Dahl of the finance committee said as he objected to revising and amending the measure on the floor.

Garran Peterson is a STR owner of multiple properties in Brewster.

“I move out (of his home and rent it) in the summer and that affords me the ability to be able to live here in Brewster,” he said. “For me to afford to live here I have to move out.” He said the proposed articles needed to be more precisely edited.

“I support articles 13 and 14” Laurel Labdon countered. “I’m not only inspired (by Delano), I believe this is good policy.”

David Faherty said the total cost of the program wouldn’t be covered by the fees it would raise, and Town Manager Peter Lombardi said it would require two employees and cost $200,000 a year, not including startup expenses.

“This could add another layer of bureaucracy to the town,” Faherty warned. “Be careful of the law of unintended consequences.”

“Short-term rentals exacerbate the current housing crisis,” teacher Sarah Abney said. “They limit the number of year-round rentals and cause prices to go up.”

“This makes the assumption short-term rentals are in year-round houses. I rent short-term rentals that are cottages that can’t be used year round,” Attorney Stephen Jones said. “You need to apply by Feb. 28. What if I buy a property May 1? I can’t rent it that year? There are serious flaws in the way this is presented to us. What if a short-term rental has four owners, some local, some not, do they each get a short-term rental?”

“If not now, when?” Dave Bennett asked. “It should be soon. I am in support of article 13.”

Nevertheless, a motion to indefinitely postpone was made and after more discussion it passed.

“Without the passage of article 13, article 14 is flawed,” Moderator Charles Sumner said,

That article was also indefinitely postponed.

Indefinite postponement allows a revised article to be brought back before town meeting at a future date.