Newport bans whole-home short-term rentals in residential zones

NEWPORT – Whole-home short-term rentals, which are commonly offered through services such as Airbnb and Vrbo, are no longer allowed in city residential zones.

The City Council voted last week to approve a change in city ordinances that homes cannot be rented out for periods less than 30 days in residential zones. The ordinance change allows property owners to continue offering short-term home rentals in Newport’s commercial zones, but in the Limited Business District they must acquire a special permit from the city’s Zoning Board of Review.

The newly instituted ban does not apply to short-term rentals of owner-occupied homes. Owners of Newport homes who live in the housing unit are still able to rent out rooms to guests for short periods under the new ordinance changes.

Councilor Jamie Bova said in a message to city residents that the aim of the ordinance is to make sure that Newport remains a community of permanent residents, rather than consisting solely of tourists and out-of-town, absentee property owners.

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“These short-term rentals take away housing stock that could be utilized by year-round residents, and negatively impact our neighborhoods and community,” Bova said.

Airbnb said the city’s decision is taking money out of Newport’s economy and causing financial pain to taxpaying property owners that depend on short-term rentals to help make ends meet. The company also said the new ordinance change makes applications for special permits hard to access in the commercial zones, with hosts only able to register by mail during a limited two-week window ahead of the tourism season.

“As our host community communicated loud and clear to the Newport City Council and Zoning Department, these regulations will have a devastating effect on their ability to earn income that helps pay their mortgages and contribute to the Newport tourism economy overall,” said Manny Capellan, public policy manager for Airbnb. “The city should make registration requirements simpler and reduce the monthslong wait times that hosts have been experiencing to register.”

City Council members and Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano listed several reasons for the ban, including quality-of-life issues such as excessive noise created by guests and guest vehicles taking up on-street parking.

Councilors have said when rental homes are not occupied in the off-season, it results in “dark homes,” which contribute to a fleeting sense of community. Others have expressed concerns about short-term rentals leading to spikes in real estate values, and consequently the loss of moderately priced homes.

Brandon Pico, an Airbnb host who has rented out the first-floor unit of his two-family home in a residential zone since 2016, said a lot of the complaints raised by city government officials were based on hearsay, without much data to back it up. Pico said he won’t be able to rent out the unit anymore under the new ordinance, but he’s in the process of trying to obtain a special-use permit to allow him to continue doing so, with an application that remains pending.

“The short-term rental is crucial to how I’m able to live in Newport,” Pico said. “Do I sell my house now? Do I rent it to [Salve Regina University]? I don’t know. … It’s unfortunate that these decisions were made without a comprehensive look at all the data.”

According to the city’s website, “For properties in the Limited Business Zone, short-term rentals are also prohibited, unless the owner of the property is granted a Special Use Permit by the Zoning Board of Review. Short-term rentals, or transient guest facilities, remain permissible in the City’s General Business and Waterfront Business zones.”

On a statewide level, a new law recently took effect requiring owners of short-term rentals that are listed through third-party hosting platforms such as Airbnb to be registered with the state, following a vote by the General Assembly on Jan. 4 to override a veto against the law issued last year by Gov. Daniel J. McKee. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Lauren H. Carson, D-Newport, and Sen. Dawn Euer, D-Newport, makes it the responsibility of hosting platforms to ensure properties are registered with the R.I. Department of Budget and Revenue.

Marc Larocque is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at You may also follow him on Twitter @LaRockPBN.