PROVINCETOWN — The board of health is directing short-term rental property owners in Provincetown to refrain from renting their properties, at least through the end of April. Hotels and guest houses have been directed to serve only people who are traveling for essential business, such as those caring for loved ones or offering medical aid.
“This is not a time for visitors to come to Provincetown to stay in hotels and Airbnbs,” said Steve Katsurinis, chair of the health board. “The governor’s shelter-in-place order lists specific essential activities. None of those include vacationing, respite, recreational getaways.”
Provincetown issued a shelter-in-place order with specific rules on Sunday, March 22, a day before Gov. Baker did. Four days later, Provincetown suspended its order to avoid confusion.
Provincetown had directed hotels, motels, and leased residences to serve only customers who were traveling for specific crisis-related reasons. The governor’s order is less specific about lodging. For that reason, the board of health, following legal advice, came up with its current interpretation.
“The governor’s order doesn’t close certain classes of lodging,” said Katsurinis. “It says hotels are essential businesses, and it’s silent on short-term rentals. However, it does describe essential activities.” Weighing the narrow band of legitimate reasons to travel to Provincetown short-term against the vast amount of lodging available led the board to conclude that most lodging ought to be closed.
Late update: On Tuesday, March 31, Gov. Baker restricted all lodging types to accommodate only COVID-related essential activity. This order applies statewide.
Hotels Already Closed
Most of Provincetown’s 70 hotels, guest houses, and other licensed lodgings have already closed voluntarily, although one or two of the motel-style properties, where each room has a separate outdoor entrance, are likely to stay open, according to Katsurinis.
There are valid reasons to need a room. A member of a household might be exposed or returning from travel and need to self-quarantine. Other household members might want to move out for two weeks. Many college students on the Cape have stayed in hotels before moving back into their parents’ homes. Someone might travel here to provide support for an elderly relative but not want to stay in that person’s home.
And there are new risks to renting rooms. Hotel owners have been warned that if one of their guests were to become sick from coronavirus, the health dept. could close the facility and quarantine everyone on-site, obligating owners to put them up for weeks beyond their original reservations.
Getting the Word Out
“Right now, we are asking people to follow the guidelines,” said Select Board Chair Dave Abramson. “Enforcement is not the easy issue right now.”
“Our experience is that when people are asked to comply and explained the reasons why, people are very compliant,” said Katsurinis.
The town is not asking people who may already be in short-term rentals to leave. “From a public health standpoint, kicking people out of a place where they may be self-quarantined is not smart,” said Katsurinis. “But if your property is vacant, it needs to remain vacant.”
Provincetown’s health director, Morgan Clark, emailed a formal message to 68 licensed lodgings and 566 short-term rental owners on Monday, March 30. But reaching all of the those who rent short-term is a challenge. Such rentals were untaxed until very recently, and the health dept. is still establishing lines of communication.
There are a few acceptable reasons to travel to Provincetown. “If [owners] have an actual, legitimate situation where a person is doing essential work and they reach out to you, and you want to put them up in your property — reach out to the board of health, and we’ll work with you,” said Katsurinis.