HULL — Since the 1800s, homeowners in this seaside peninsula have been renting out their houses for the summer to make some extra money for the rest of the year.
“It’s a practice almost as old as the tourism industry — a tradition that’s always been there,” said local historian John Galluzzo.
So Galluzzo said he — and countless others — were surprised when the Hull building commissioner recently ordered four homeowners to stop renting to vacationers, saying the town’s zoning bylaws don’t allow the practice in residential neighborhoods.
“It’s funny when something like that pops up and challenges a way of life that we’ve known forever,” said Galluzzo, whose latest book is “Hull and Nantasket Beach Through Time.”
Two of the property owners have appealed, and the Board of Appeals will hold a hearing Aug. 29 on the ruling, which Building Commissioner Peter Lombardo acknowledges potentially could affect hundreds of residential properties in town.
While officials say they don’t know the exact number of seasonal rentals in Hull, one webpage — VRBO, an acronym for “vacation rentals by owner” — currently has more than 450 Hull listings.
“I think it’s going to define who we are,” said Frank Marchione, president of the Hull Nantasket Chamber of Commerce, who warned that restricting rentals would hurt the town’s economy and hinder attempts to increase tourism.
“We’re always preaching come down to Hull, instead of the Cape,” Marchione said. “We’re always trying to promote our beach, what we have to offer, so we definitely want to give people a place to stay. If we don’t have that, that’s a problem. It worries me that people aren’t paying attention to the potential economic disaster, if we don’t allow these people to rent their homes.”
Gail Cannon, a sales agent with DiVito Realty in Hull, said many people rent their homes to vacationers to help pay their taxes. “It’s crazy,” she said. “And it would kill the real estate people if we couldn’t rent houses for the summer.”
But Robert Galvin, an attorney for the neighbors who originally complained to the town, said the critics have overblown the impact of the ruling and mischaracterized the real victims — his clients.
The problem, he said, is homeowners who are treating their properties like “investments rather than single-family homes” and “destroying the fabric of this residential neighborhood. The homes are being rented to other than single families — more like lodging houses — and they are becoming party houses.”
His clients have had to put up with “incessant partying and late night noise . . . fraternity and sorority type behaviors, the trash that becomes strewn through the neighboring properties, and the abusive language and conduct by some of the weekly renters who care principally about getting the most out of their week, rather than the welfare of the neighborhood,” he said.
“I’m not suggesting that every single tenant is inappropriate, but it happens enough that it’s a problem,” Galvin added.
The controversy started over the winter when a group of homeowners led by Mark Gladstone — an attorney in Canton who owns 117 Beach Ave. — filed a complaint with the Building Department about two houses being rented near his in the scenic Kenberma section of town. One house — 119 Beach Ave. — overlooks the beach and the other — 110 Manomet Ave. — is around the corner.
The complaint was that the rentals were businesses in an area zoned for single-family residences, Lombardo said.
He said he consulted with the town attorney and concluded that the complaint was valid, in part because there was nothing in the bylaws that specifically allowed short-term rentals.
“Unless it is specifically allowed, it’s not allowed,” Lombardo said.
He said he sent letters to the owners of the two homes, informing them that they were violating town bylaws by having a business in a residential zone and ordering them to “cease and desist.” When the rentals continued, Lombardo sent second letters warning that the homeowners faced “further legal action and fines.”
Mark Klayman, who owns 110 Manomet Ave., and Robert Lytle, of 119 Beach Ave, then appealed to the town’s Board of Appeals. Their attorney, Michael Nuesse, who is the town moderator and a former Board of Appeals member, said the town was misinterpreting the zoning rules.
“There have been short-term rentals in Hull for a hundred years anyway,” Nuesse said. “We believe short-term rentals are allowed under [zoning] language that allows customary uses.”
Nuesse also asserted that his clients were being selectively prosecuted. Galvin says the appeals were filed too late and the rentals must stop. Lombardo said he has not decided how to enforce the orders, pending a decision by the Board of Appeals.
Since the first “cease and desist” orders went out, Lombardo said he has sent out two more — to the owners of 107 Beach Ave. and 109 Manomet Ave.
The Beach Avenue property is owned by the Joseph and Shirley Lappan Trust. A spokesman who did not want to be identified said the Lappans bought the house 42 years ago, but had moved out of state and their children rented it out in the summer so they could afford to keep it. “There are a lot of memories there [they] don’t want to give up,” the spokesman said.
Klayman, a Sharon resident, said he bought 110 Manomet Ave. in 2008 as an income property, and rents it weekly in summer and monthly at other times. He has summered in Hull since he was a child and still stays at another home he owns two blocks away, he said.
“In the four years I’ve rented, I haven’t received a single complaint from any of the neighbors,” he said. “I rent to single families who are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.”
He said he was shocked when the town told him his rental property was illegal.
“Why did this all of a sudden become illegal after 100, 200, years of being a common practice?” Klayman said. “I still love the town. I don’t think this is any reflection on the town. It’s a reflection on [my] neighbor and whoever [in Town Hall] went along with this. I don’t understand why the town took up his cause.”
Nuesse said he hoped the town would go beyond the individual cases and address the entire issue of short-term rentals. “We’re hoping the town puts together a committee to propose some bylaws for short-term rentals. A number of towns have faced this issue and dealt with it” that way, he said.