PROVINCETOWN — At the annual town meeting on April 3, voters will consider three citizen-petitioned articles proposing amendments to Provincetown’s general bylaw that would institute new regulations on short-term rentals (STRs) — a hot-button housing issue here and nationwide.
The select board, at its March 13 meeting, voted 4-1 not to recommend the proposals, with Chair David Abramson the outlier, saying he would prefer that the board reserve its recommendation.
A short-term rental is legally defined as a dwelling unit that’s rented for not more than 31 days at a time. In Provincetown, STRs require a board of health certificate.
Article 18, requested by Michael Gaucher and others, would regulate the certification process, requiring owners to register their short-term units annually and limiting permits to one per property owner.
Article 19, also requested by Gaucher, would create a cap of 1,500 short-term rentals and establish a town-run lottery or waitlist system for distributing relinquished or revoked certificates.
Article 20 is requested by Paul Benson and others. (Benson is a staff reporter at the Provincetown Independent.) It proposes a cap of 1,283 short-term rentals and would allow certificates to be bought and sold privately between owners as well as pass automatically from a certified seller to a buyer in real estate transactions. It caps the number of STRs per owner at three.
The town currently has just over 700 valid STR certificates on its books, according to Assistant Town Manager Dan Riviello. But data collected by Granicus, a civic communications software company under municipal contract with Provincetown, has suggested the existence of more than 1,400 units that are rented out during the peak summer season.
The town is working to identify the remaining 700-plus property owners and bring them into compliance with the rules, Riviello told the Independent.
Provincetown had 849 renter-occupied units listed on the 2000 census. By 2019, according to American Community Survey data, that number had dropped to 334, representing a roughly 60-percent loss in long-term rental units.
“I understand that we need a number of short-term rental properties in Provincetown to support our tourist economy,” Gaucher said. “But the number is out of balance.” He added that, as a result, the town is “losing people who are vital to keep the economic engine of this town running.”
The town is projected to add more than 150 dwelling units to its inventory in the next few years through multiple housing developments.
“There is a consensus around building housing,” Benson said. But the pace at which units are being constructed, he said, does not match the pace at which units are being converted to short-term rentals. “I think our housing crisis, which everyone talks about continually, requires a look not just at the construction side of the equation but also at the existing inventory and some consciousness of how its use is changing,” he said.
At the select board’s meeting, numerous people raised concerns about Articles 18, 19, and 20.
“The short-term rental articles on our town warrant are flawed,” said Lee Ash, a Provincetown resident and real estate agent with William Raveis. Ash said the proposals were likely to “change the demographics of buyers to those who don’t need to be concerned about rentals, just accelerating the ongoing shift to a more exclusive environment, which many people lament already.”
Several second-home owners who said they had plans to retire in Provincetown but for now operate their properties as short-term rentals spoke against the proposals. “There’s quite a bit of work involved in preparing our homes for people to come and enjoy Provincetown in the summer,” said Cindy Lux, a part-time resident. “Our efforts result in increased business to the town.”
In 2018, the Commonwealth passed a short-term rental occupancy tax that extends the “rooms tax” paid by inns and hotels to STRs. “I believe our properties have contributed over $30,000 to $35,000 in the last seven years that we’ve owned them,” said Kevin Cronin, who rents out the house at 9 Carnes Lane where he plans to eventually retire with his husband.
Finding other ways to regulate the booming short-term rental industry — facilitated through platforms like Airbnb, VRBO, and HomeAway — and quantify its role in destabilizing long-term rental markets and driving evictions has been a subject of intense debate in municipalities across the globe.
Lisbon, Portugal recently instituted STR “containment” zones, putting a moratorium on new certificates in certain dense tourism areas. Palm Springs, Calif. passed an STR regulation package in late 2022 that capped permits at 20 percent of residential neighborhoods. And in 2018, Portland, Maine instituted a cap of 400 non-owner-occupied STR units in the mainland city area (STR permits for owner-occupied units, i.e., primary residences occupied at least half the year by the owner, are not restricted there).
At the meeting, Benson said that both he and Gaucher intended to amend the scope of their articles before town meeting by requesting a one-year moratorium on additional STR certificates and the creation of a working group on the issue. This approach would “give our civic body more time to work on this problem,” Benson said.
Select board member Leslie Sandberg, who said she opposed the articles, also said she supported a working group, and that the board should create one before town meeting.
There will be a town meeting forum at town hall at 5:30 p.m. on March 22 where town bodies and petitioners may present their articles and answer questions.