For three + years residents have been attending City Council meetings and calling City Councilors to address concerns about allowing short-term rentals (STRs) in our city. STRs are rental periods of 31 days or less in various types of properties. We are grateful that the topic is coming up on the agenda finally, but could the timing be any worse?
With the Watertown Square Charrette meetings occurring this next week, the Council meeting is now on Monday, November 27, when typically Council meetings are held on Tuesdays. How many people are going to pay attention to the day change, especially right after a long holiday weekend?
Some people with an interest in this topic may still be out of town. And if you look at the agenda, it’s a full one, with STRs scheduled towards the end of the meeting. Even though all these factors could have the effect of discouraging people from attending and participating, I’m asking you to get involved.
Do we know if the Councilors will be voting that night, or is this just another discussion? That’s not clear. Where do the Councilors stand on this issue? Does the public know?
Even though these types of rental units are tolerated in some cities that are tourist areas like Boston and vacation areas along the coast, here in Watertown the consensus of opinion seems to be that we don’t want them or need them. In fact, some other areas, such as the Cape, are seeing the downsides of these businesses and are talking about amending their zoning to disallow them as they are changing their communities and not for the better.
There has been a lot of talk that we need more affordable housing in Watertown and these hundreds of units are not being rented by people who want to permanently live here and be part of our community. They are currently being used as a business that caters to people who stay for varying short periods of times.
Watertown Zoning Enforcement says that their hands are tied. They rely on complaints from neighbors to make them aware of situations that are not working out. Even then it takes an inordinate amount of time to respond to these complaints, if ever. That situation will not change, even if these units are regulated.
They say they need proof of what is happening in a house to investigate. How can neighbors constantly monitor the activities? Should they have to bear this responsibility? Should they have to buy and install cameras to see what’s going on day and night, and does that add to a positive neighborhood environment? Should they have to put up with the possible issues regarding parking, trash and noise?
That is truly an unreasonable burden to put on residents. They feel they could be in jeopardy for repercussions for reporting issues. And when problems arise due to the renters or the owners of STRs, police, fire and ambulance personnel are called to resolve the issues. Those are extra expenses that are incurred by the City as a whole and take valuable personnel away from other emergencies. This is an issue that needs to be addressed THIS YEAR. We don’t want or need to keep passing the buck on this problem. These types of units add nothing to Watertown. They just deprive families who’d like to live here of housing, which is what most of us want to have.
Typically these units are either one or multi-family homes that people have bought and turned into a business. Occasionally they’re in apartment buildings. The owners often don’t live there and don’t really know what’s going on, and that is when the neighbors bear the brunt of this lack of supervision. Even if the owner lives there, there can be confrontations or difficulties.
Can the city readily identify these STRs, especially if they have not registered through a state-authorized service? Does the city really need the pitiful amount of income they are getting back from the state on these STRs, (approximately $120,000 in total for all of them in 2022), that Gideon Schreiber stated at the meeting on April 3? How does this cover regulation and enforcement costs?
Even if they are registered, the burden will still fall on the neighbors to see if the owner/occupier is there at all times. If there is a weekend issue, especially with parking or noise issues, are the police going to have to be the enforcers as City Hall is closed down?
What are the fines going to be for the owners who don’t follow the rules? Will the fines be implemented on the first offense to discourage others from violating the rules and to show we are serious? To date no fines for offenders have been issued per Mr. Schreider. What are the fees for applying to have STRs? How often will they be inspected? How long is the permit allowed before needing renewal?
I responded to an article in Watertown News on November 15 on Affordable Housing, https://www.watertownmanews.com/2023/11/15/letter-watertown-affordable-housing-an-inside-story-part-two/# relating to my neighborhood’s experience:
A single-family house that was bought and secretly turned into a STR caused a lot of problems. The owners then secretly turned it into an unregulated two-apartment rental by blocking off access to some rooms. The mayhem that ensued … numerous visits by the police, resulting in a person being taken to the police station, did nothing to add to a positive, peaceful environment on a small street.
The city can’t possibly keep track of these types of transactions, and it’s not fair for neighbors to have to put up with strangers coming in and out of our neighborhoods over different lengths of time. This destabilizes a neighborhood.
Many parents are concerned about their children’s safety and many neighbors just don’t feel comfortable either with this uncertainty. How you can get involved in resolving this issue for your neighborhood and the rest of the city? Please attend this Council meeting on Monday, November 27, at 7 p.m. either in person or on Zoom and speak up.
This meeting will be held on November 27, 2023 at 7:00 P.M. Location: Richard E.
Mastrangelo Council Chamber
B. The meeting will be televised through WCATV (Watertown Cable Access Television):
C. The Public may join the virtual meeting online: https://watertown-ma.zoom.us/j/92991331344
D. Public may join the virtual meeting audio only by phone: (877) 853-5257 or (888)
475-4499 (Toll Free) and enter Webinar ID: 929 9133 1344
E. Public may comment through email: email@example.com
If you can’t attend, please send your comments to Councilor Vincent Piccirilli by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org, and ask that your comments be read at this meeting. (Otherwise, they may end up in a file tucked away in the archives and no one knows what you said.)
You can also send emails to all of our City Councilors at the same time: email@example.com, but actually attending is more effective. We need to encourage our Councilors to just VOTE NO on having STRs in Watertown and then make sure they shut down the unregulated units operating here now.
Free up these apartments for families to rent and help maintain a good quality of life in our community. Is that too much to ask? Shouldn’t we put the needs and] wants of our residents first? Many of us think so.