Bylaw update could help seniors and discourage short-term rentals

Apr 4, 2024

An effort to update a local town bylaw may provide more housing opportunities to seniors while curbing the spread of short-term rentals in Dartmouth. 

The bylaw deals with the construction of accessory dwelling units, or independent living spaces that homeowners can build on their property in addition to their primary residence. 

These accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, have a few perks for property owners. They offer an extra place for relatives to live independently instead of couch surfing, and they provide supplementary income should the homeowner charge rent. They also offer a smaller, more manageable living space for seniors, whether they’re moving in with family or downsizing.  

While the current bylaw caps accessory dwelling units at around 500 square feet, only slightly larger than a tiny home, the updated bylaw would allow ADU’s to be built up to 1,000 square feet, according to Planning Board Chair Christopher O'Neil.

Increasing the square footage will make ADUs a more attractive option for seniors who are downsizing from their primary residence, O’Neil said. 

“There are elders who want to stay in town,” O’Neil said. “They don’t want to go and rent somewhere else. They’d rather stay in their own home, but it’s just too big. It’s just too costly.”

O’Neil said that increasing the square footage of ADUs has some direct benefits for seniors. For seniors in need of medical care, the extra space offers more room for medical equipment, wheelchair access, hospital beds and a second bedroom for a live-in caregiver — options that weren’t available within the tight quarters of around 500 square feet.

“The overall intent is to help the senior population,” O’Neil said. 

The goal is to keep seniors from leaving Dartmouth by offering more housing opportunities, O’Neil said. 

“If you own a larger home and you don’t need as much space, but you don’t want to leave the town, this is a viable option for you in your older years to have a space that you’re familiar with,” O’Neil said. 

O’Neil said increasing the square footage will encourage more people to build ADUs, which would produce more work for local trade workers like electricians and plumbers, increase property values and raise the demand for building permits, which  would ultimately raise revenue for the town. 

During a meeting on March 11, the Planning Board addressed concerns that larger ADUs might attract nationwide short-term rental companies, such as Airbnb and Vrbo. To discourage short-term rentals, the Planning Board is considering adding a minimum lease term that could require tenants to rent the ADU for at least 31 days, though that number isn’t set in stone. 

“The longer the term of the rental, the better the neighbor,” O’Neil said. 

The bylaw also requires that these additional homes be attached to the primary home. Combined with the minimum rental period, O’Neil said this further ensures that the renters remain on good terms with their neighbors and the property owner. 

“If you have somebody that’s attached to your dwelling, chances are you’re going to know them and see them a lot,” O’Neil said. 

The consensus among the Planning Board members is that short-term rentals are detrimental to a neighborhood’s safety and general well-being, O’Neil said. Nationwide, public officials and residents have raised concerns that short-term rentals invite noisy and destructive tenants. 

“None of us want to see the short-term rentals come out of these things. We want to try to keep the neighborhood feel,” O’Neil said. “We want people to know who’s living next to them. We want to make sure the kids in the neighborhood know who’s living next to them.”

Planning Board Clerk Margaret Sweet voiced similar concerns during a public meeting on March 11 where she suggested that tenants should rent the ADUs for a minimum of one year.

“If someone’s going to live in that ADU, then they should live there … for at least a year.” Sweet said. “It should be a residence … somebody that’s going to make it a home.”

The updated bylaw would need to be approved at Town Meeting and ratified by the Attorney General before it goes into effect, O’Neil said. 

But nothing is set in stone as the Planning Board continues to discuss what exactly this updated bylaw should look like. The Planning Board will be holding a virtual public hearing on Monday, April 8 where they’ll be discussing the finer details of the bylaw before they put it up to vote at Town Meeting.