BERLIN — A petition from Wood Street residents complaining about the operation of a vacation rental in that neighborhood will result in the city council looking at the issue in depth.
While this is the first dispute over vacation rentals in the city to hit the council, Mayor Paul Grenier predicted it won’t be the last.
At Monday’s work session, the council discussed the petition signed by 16 residents of Wood Street. The petitioners said the five-bedroom house at 55 Wood St. has become a disturbance with noise at all hours of the night, open fire pits that are not contained, instances of renters smoking marijuana, drinking and using vulgar language.
The petitioners said there have been ATVs racing up and down the street, renters target shooting in the back yard and a physical altercation that a neighbor had to break up.
“It’s sad to see how one rental can disturb an entire neighborhood comprised of young children, teens, working families, as well as retired adults,” said the petition.
The Wood Street residents said they came to the council as a last resort, after some tried unsuccessfully to work out issues with the owner. Several noted they were long-time residents of the neighborhood, having lived there for over 30 years.
City Manager James Wheeler said he notified the property owner of the petition and was told they were going to put the property up for sale and would not take any new reservations.
Representing owner Gregory Ryan, Lauren Ryan said most of the complaints have come from one or two residents and said they have tried to address them. The listing for the rental asks that renters respect the neighborhood and forbids loud music, parties, drugs, engine revving and cursing.
Ryan said the Berlin rental has been a blessing to her family and they love the city.
“We love Berlin. We couldn’t be happier with our house,” she said. “We feel like we are being forced out,” she added.
But several Wood Street residents said because the Ryans do not live in the area, they are not there to address the issues when they occur. They said the owners came up one day and locked their dogs in the house while they went snowmobiling and the dogs barked for hours.
Grenier asked Police Chief Peter Morency if the department has received many calls from Wood Street residents complaining about activities at the rental house.
Morency said department records showed four calls for noise and parking issues. The chief observed that change can be difficult in a neighborhood when people have grown accustom to each other, then a short-term rental property comes in and it does not fit the lifestyle of existing neighbors.
Morency said there are some rules and regulations the city can enforce. He said people should call and the police will respond.
Councilor Mark Eastman said he hated to see a business shut down but said he was not sure what the council could do except make sure everyone is following the law.
Councilor Peter Higbee said he personally likes short-term rentals and has used them when he travels. He said it is up to the owner of the property to establish ground rules for guests.
Ryan asked if the family could continue to rent the house until it sells.
Grenier said there is nothing that prevents them from doing so.
The mayor said he would like to schedule a work session devoted to rental properties and look at regulations and enforcement. With Berlin’s growing reputation as an ATV destination, the number of vacation rental properties are increasing.
Grenier stressed he wants to be fair to both sides — allowing short-term rentals but recognizing neighbors should be able to enjoy living in their homes.
Higbee suggested the city research how other communities handle such properties. Wheeler said he and Community Development Director Pamela Wheeler have already started that process.
• The council discussed continuing to live-stream its Monday meetings over Facebook. Community Development Director Pamela Laflamme said live-streaming does not allow the city to shut down comments and as a result some people post comments that are inappropriate.
The city can delete individual comments but Laflamme said the city does not want to be in the position of censoring comments. She said YouTube does not allow live-streaming but the city could post videos of the meetings there.
Councilors said they believe there are members of the public that live-stream the meetings and want to continue them as long as COVID-19 has the council meeting remotely.
• The council approved the cemetery board of trustees’ recommendation to increase weekend burial fees from $75 to $125 to cover the actual cost.
• The council voted to have its mask ordinance remain in place as long as the state’s mask ordinance. At that time, the council would consider whether to extend the city’s ordinance.
Councilor Russ Otis was the only councilor to vote against the ordinance.
• The city’s ladder truck is repaired and should be back in Berlin next week.
City Manager James Wheeler said the city has not received a final bill yet. He said the city canceled plans to rent a ladder truck, saving $5,000.
• Wheeler reported that Danielle Rioux has accepted the position of city manager’s executive assistant. Rioux is coming to the city from the Coos County Nursing Home where she is the human relations manager and assistant to the administrator. She will start on March 15 and will replace Susan Tremblay, who is retiring after years in the position.
• Wheeler also reported that Mark Lapointe has accepted the position of assistant public works director effective Monday. He was promoted from his job as public works supervisor. In his new role, Lapointe will have oversight of day-to-day operations of the department.