WARWICK − Bill Gagnier pulls out the rule book for his short-term rental house in Pawtuxet Village, just one lot away from the river.
The binder has instructions on how to operate the TV and streaming services, where to eat, where to find things in the house, and what the rules are, like don’t park on the lawn.
Gagnier said he makes sure a full wine bottle is always in front of the rule book, to ease his guests into it.
Under a set of regulations written by the city’s planning department and proposed by Councilor Edgar Ladouceur, Gagnier’s short-term rental would be banned in the city because he does not live in the building.
When the Warwick City Council opened a public hearing, Monday night, on the proposed ordinance, 16 short-term rental owners welcomed regulation of their industry but decried the elimination of their livelihoods through the banning of all but owner-occupied units.
Owners of short-term rentals in Warwick came out in droves
A total of 16 short-term rental owners spoke against the ban on rentals that are not occupied by the owner, pointing to their stellar records, reviews and the business ancillary income it creates for the community, like house cleaners, electricians, plumbers and landscapers .
The owners also decried the fact that the city planning department, which wrote the ordinance, did not include them in the drafting process.
Passage scheduleWarwick contemplates banning all but owner-occupied short-term rentals
One short-term rental owner, who lives in her unit, Cindy Wilson, said she wants the city to pass the ordinance banning her competitors and the 76 units, one of which she operates, are unfair competition for hotels.
Warwick resident Robert Byrne said the owner-occupied restriction is needed to prevent party houses but did not say that he has ever had a problem with short-term rental properties.
Gerald Galleshaw, who owns short-term rentals in Oakland Beach, is organizing fellow owners, along with Gagnier. In an interview, he pointed to the use of monitoring technology, sold by Minut, which measures how loud it is inside a residence, how many phones are inside, and notifies the owner if it gets too loud in the house.
Galleshaw said operating the short-term rentals is one of the few things he can do because of a physical disability.
What happens next to the ordinance?
At the end of the hearing, Ladouceur asked that it be put on the agenda for the second meeting in December, just before Christmas. The city has 45 days to take action on the ordinance because it deals with zoning before the process must start over.
Ladouceur said his major concern continues to be the requirement that short-term rentals be occupied by their owners.
How prolific are short-term rentals in Warwick?
There are three metrics to measure short-term rentals in Warwick. Councilor Timothy Howe said the police department only has 17 registered addresses, the state’s newly implemented short-term rental registration program shows 23 units and the analytics company AirDNA puts the number of “active” rentals at 73, mostly clustered along Warwick’s waterfront.
Are short-term rentals causing Warwick’s housing crises?
Councilor Anthony Sinapi said he has “lost count” of the number of constituents who have called him as they are pushed out of the Warwick rental market by rising rents, at the same time short-term rentals are cropping up.
Ladouceur also cited the 73 short-term rental units as part of the reason for Warwick’s skyrocketing rents.
According to the US Census Bureau’s housing figures for 2010, the last year available, single-family homes made up 72% of the city’s housing stock, 27,239 houses, with a total of 37,730 residential units in the city.
Those 73 short term rentals, some of which are in multi-family buildings, represent 0.19% of Warwick’s housing stock.
The city’s four residential zones only allow the building of single-family houses, while the “village district” allows up to four-family buildings by right and requires a special permit for larger residential buildings.
Apartment buildings are only allowed in the city’s “gateway” and “intermodal” districts, which are the areas surrounding the airport.
Banning single-family zoning has been floated in the legislature as a way to deal with the state’s housing crises, where demand has outstripped supply.
In an interview after the meeting, Sinapi said the city is working on rewriting its zoning rules but increasing density in Rhode Island’s second-largest city would be “a more difficult conversation.”
Bill aims to ban ‘elitist zoning’:An end to the quiet RI single-family neighborhood? Bill aims to ban ‘elitist zoning’
Are short-term rentals already illegal in Warwick?
Councilor Vincent Gebhart said the city’s current zoning regulation outlaws all short-term rentals in the city and that if the city receives complaints, it will send cease-and-desist letters to the owners.
While a law may be on the books in Warwick, in 2021, former Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl found Barrington could not prevent the Rhode Island School of Design from renting its beach-adjacent house, at 15 Freemont Ave. in Barrington, near its now closed parking lot at Tillinghast Place. While the town could regulate short-term rentals, it could not use an ordinance on how many people can “live” in a house to ban them altogether.
The legislature, in the same bill that created the state registry of short-term rentals, which was vetoed by Gov. Dan McKee and then overridden, also prohibited cities and towns from “prohibiting” owners from offering the rentals on online platforms, like AirBNB and VRBO.
Owners question city’s reasoning for rental ban
Greer Gagnier, the daughter of Bill Gagnier, who runs her own short term rentals, told the city council that she requested the records from the city that would show that short term rentals are a nuisance or problem, as outlined in the proposed ordinance, which calls them “the source of noise, congestion, pollution and disorderly behavior.”
She said the police department had no records, the building department had no records and the planning department had no records, while the property maintenance department had 11 complaints over the past two years, but the city did not provide the actual complaints, or if they were all coming from the same person.
Councilor Donna Travis, who co-sponsored the ordinance, claimed, incorrectly, that short-term rentals don’t pay taxes like hotels do. The state’s registration requirement and ban on cities and towns preventing the listing of short-term rentals is tied to payment of hotel taxes by short-term rentals and Gagnier said during the hearing that he pays thousands in hotel taxes each year.
Travis said more people have complained about short term rentals but were afraid to do so publicly, instead coming to her confidentially.
What would the short-term rental ordinance do?
Under the proposed zoning change, owner occupied short-term rentals would be allowed in the city’s four residential zoning districts and the “village district.” They would be banned in all of the other commercial districts.
The ordinance would also ban any “accessory” dwelling units, or accessory structures, from being offered as short-term rentals.
Readthe proposed short-term rental ordinance
If the zoning changes pass, short-term rentals would require a permit from the city each year.
The maximum number of people allowed at a short-term rental would be capped at two people per bedroom, and an additional two people per unit. So a 2-bedroom rental would only allow six guests in the proposed regulations.
The short-term rental units would also be required to provide off-street parking of one space per bedroom, plus one per house. A 2-bedroom rental would require three parking spaces.
Weddings and “other special events” would be banned at short-term rental properties and venues that have weddings would separately be banned from offering short-term rentals.
Guests at the rental would also be required to provide the landlord with their name, home address, phone number, vehicle registration, and the landlord would need to hand that information over to city officials investigating any “offenses” related to the guests, according to the proposed rules.
Fines for violating the zoning rules would be $100 a day for a first offense, $250 a day for a second offense and $500 a day for third and subsequent offenses. Three offenses would be grounds for a permit revocation, lasting a year, according to the proposed rules.