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Hull

Proposed rules on home rentals draw both criticism, applause

Hull officials have unveiled proposed new rules that allow homeowners to rent out their properties for a week or longer — drawing harsh criticism from those who fear the rule will destroy their neighborhoods and sighs of relief from others who rely on rental income to pay their bills in this seaside town.

The proposed zoning bylaw, written at the request of the Board of Selectmen, needs Town Meeting approval in May to take effect, and follows a drawn-out controversy.

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The fuss began more than a year ago with complaints from some homeowners in the scenic Kenberma section of town about loud parties, trash, and other “Animal House” bad behavior at two homes on Beach and Manomet avenues that were rented weekly to vacationers. Led by Mark Gladstone, a Canton lawyer who has summered on Beach Avenue for the past 28 years, the neighbors asserted that Hull’s zoning bylaws prohibited such short-term rentals in residential zones.

The town’s building commissioner agreed, as did the Zoning Board of Appeals, which ruled in December that the two properties were operating illegally as businesses in a residential area.

The owners appealed, and the case is before the Massachusetts Land Court.

Meanwhile, the issue ignited heated reactions from people in this town of 10,000 — where officials say there are about 4,000 single-family homes and 1,200 rental properties. The Hull Nantasket Chamber of Commerce and local realtors argued loudly that the town’s economy depends on tourism and that Hull has a long tradition, dating back to the 1800s, of renting to beach-loving vacationers.

The selectmen asked Town Manager Philip Lemnios and his staff to write a zoning bylaw amendment that would explicitly allow rentals, but provide protections for nearby residents. Lemnios presented the three-page proposal last week at a joint meeting of the Board of Selectmen, Board of Health, and Planning Board.

“The goal was to provide a bylaw that was very straightforward and very simple,” Lemnios said.

The new rule would allow weekly or longer rentals in any part of town, provided the owner received a Certificate of Occupancy permit from the Board of Health.

The board already inspects and issues such permits for about 1,200 rental units in town, working with the building and fire departments to check for a long list of health and safety standards, according to Hull’s public health director, Joyce Sullivan.

The number of people allowed to stay in a particular rental unit would be determined by the state sanitary code. For example, the code says a unit would need 150 square feet for the first occupant and 100 square feet for every additional one, Sullivan said.

The bylaw provides penalties of up to $300 a day for not complying with the rules — and the prospect of losing permission to rent a property altogether if there are problems with noise, traffic, parking, or “disruptive conduct.”

“The point of this section is to acknowledge that there are times when rentals can be disruptive to a neighborhood and there needs to be more of a mechanism to deal with that than” calling the police, Lemnios said. “It’s for landlords who don’t screen their renters well, so it isn’t Party Central every weekend.”

Gladstone’s wife, Debrah, was among those at the joint meeting unconvinced that the proposed bylaw would solve problems with rowdy tenants.

“Once there was a vision of making Hull a desirable town where families want to set down roots, a place to live by the ocean with serenity, to leave the clatter of honky-tonk behind,” she said at the meeting. “This current proposal loses sight of that vision, putting the financial gain of the minority ahead of the greater good.”

She said “unheard-of-in-Hull” high summer weekly rents have led investors to buy in neighborhoods where homes used to lease by the month or forthe summer. “This seems to imply opportunism rather than concern about the year-round, permanent, and residential future of the town of Hull,” she said, adding that the weekly renters were less considerate of the neighbors.

“Already there is talk among longtime property owners about getting out of town and leaving this chaos behind. Then the pockets of the few will be filled, the town will be redefined, and the heart and soul of the community will be left behind,” she said.

But Edward DellaValle applauded the proposed bylaw, saying he screens his tenants carefully, and uses the weekly rent from his house on Kenberma Street to maintain, improve, and enjoy the property.

“From my perspective, it’s enabled us to own a house in Hull,” he said. “To take away the right to rent it for a week, I think, would be unfair.”

Realtor Mark Abatuno, who is on the board of the Hull Nantasket Chamber of Commerce, also supported the proposed bylaw, saying that many residents rely on rental income to pay their bills and that renters support the local economy.

“I feel bad that [some people] had a bad experience with renters,” Abatuno said. “But I’m not here to make a quick buck. I care about the town.”

Attorney Daniel Brewer, who represents one of the homeowners in the case before the state Land Court, said in a phone interview that the proposed bylaw was “certainly a step in the right direction.” He added that the rule would not affect his client’s case “at all” because of a provision that no current rental properties would be “grandfathered.”

Johanna Seltz can be reached at seltzjohanna@gmail.com.
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