NEW FAIRFIELD — More than 50 people filled the library community room Wednesday to tell zoning officials their thoughts about Airbnb rentals that have recently popped up around town.
The hearing was set up by the town’s Zoning Commission to help members decide how to regulate the short-term rentals, which have increased this year mostly in communities surrounding Candlewood Lake.
Those who spoke Wednesday were split between homeowners who say the online rental service has helped them keep or improve their home and residents who contend the renters often pack large groups into small houses and strain septic systems, crowd parking or disturb permanent neighbors.
“Every weekend we have new neighbors and almost every weekend for them it’s like the Fourth of July, with fireworks and parties,” said one lake resident, who showed commission members a listing for a three-bedroom home down her street that advertises the capacity to sleep 10 people.
Other residents said they have had as many as 18 people come stay in small houses on the lake and have issues with loud music, trash left in the yard or even renters who use the bathroom outside or run naked through the neighborhood.
But some homeowners in the crowd who rent their homes on Airbnb said they have had no or minimal issues with renters, who are vetted through a review system by the website. The residents said using Airbnb has allowed them to keep their home as taxes rise and that renters help New Fairfield’s economy by shopping and going to restaurants in town.
“I think it’s up to the owners to manage,” said Rob White, who told the crowd he has been renting his home for three years. “If a neighbor never tells me the issue, I can’t manage the situation. Instead of pushing away this sharing economy, I think neighbors have to talk to each other…There’s enough opportunity for everyone.”
White suggested creating a registry of owners who rent their homes so neighbors can contact them with any problems. Others in the crowd suggested having homeowners associations weigh in on any regulations or requiring the homes to register as Airbnb rentals.
Right now, only bed and breakfasts, which require a special permit, are defined in New Fairfield’s regulations, not Airbnbs, Zoning Enforcement Officer Evan White has said.
Commission Chairman John Moran told the crowd members will begin to discuss the issue at next month’s meeting and will take a few months to decide on a regulation, or no regulation, about the rentals.