Short-term rental ordinance reviewed

Posted 3/30/22

For about three weeks in August Brendan McLaughlin used his Cowesett home for short-term rentals.

Then on Aug. 23 he received a cease-and-desist letter from the city.

“This office …

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Short-term rental ordinance reviewed


For about three weeks in August Brendan McLaughlin used his Cowesett home for short-term rentals.

Then on Aug. 23 he received a cease-and-desist letter from the city.

“This office received a complaint for property located at 160 Highland Avenue concerning the use of a single-family dwelling as a short-term rental,” read the letter from Al DeCorte, city building official .

The letter read that renting a single-family home for less than 30 days is “by definition a hotel or motel” and is not allowed in the district the house is located in. McLaughlin was informed an appeal could be filed with the Zoning Board of Review, but not complying with the notice would result in court action with fines up to $500 a day.

DeCorte explained that currently  the only means of enforcing the ordinance is through complaints the Building Department receives.

Asked if the city has any mechanism in place to find short-term rentals throughout the city by tracking them through the host platforms, DeCorte said no, noting that they would need a couple more staff members working full-time to handle it.

“Right now, we are staffed to be reactive,” said DeCorte.

Through a search on Airbnb, one of the better known host sites for short-term rentals, on the 4th of July for example there are five short-term rentals currently available in Warwick.

McLaughlin said he would get as much as $1,200 a night for renting the property. After not seeing a way to rent the home short-term he sold it  shortly  after getting the letter.

McLaughlin isn’t the only one who has been faced with a cease-and-desist letter for operating a short-term rental.

In 2014 Cindy Wilson said she received a letter saying  she had been running an illegal bed and breakfast and had to stop.

After performing a number of tasks including having her driveway widened, replacing smoke detectors, and adding a grab railing to the stairs to name a few, she was granted a special exception by the Zoning Board.

In the years that would follow, Wilson argues others who have short-term rentals should have to follow the same rules.

During the administration of Mayor Joseph Solomon , Wilson said a group was formed to look at drafting an ordinance to address  short-term rentals. Earlier this month Wilson held a folder containing drafts of a possible ordinances  that never made it to the council floor.  It's been eight years since Wilson was told that she had to make her property in compliance with a bed and breakfast.

That could change in the near future.

Last week Planning Director Tom Kravitz provided the Warwick Beacon with a draft zoning change regarding short-term rentals.

“This is under review by the administration and subject to change,” Kravitz wrote in an email. “If/when it gets to the City Council Agenda, it’s likely to be something similar to this.”

Under the proposed ordinance certain dwellings aren’t eligible to be offered as short-term rentals. They include:

  • Accessory family dwelling units.
  • Dwelling units that have been designated as “affordable” or are otherwise below market rate, such as those units that are subject to housing or rental assistance and/or deed restrictions.
  • Dwelling units subject to any requirement of local, state, or federal law that prohibits the leasing or subleasing of the unit or use of the unit as a short-term rental.
  • Dwelling units that are subject to three or more violations of any municipal ordinance or state law or code in a twelve month period related to excessive noise, improper disposal of trash, disorderly conduct, parking, or any other nuisance behavior.
  • Dwelling units that are subject to any outstanding building, sanitary, fire, zoning, or property maintenance code violations.


Under the draft ordinance those planning  short term rentals would need to first obtain a  permit from the building department. The ordinance also would require that short-term rentals follow state regulations regarding registration.

Last year the General Assembly approved legislation requiring a third-party hosting platform to register each short-term rental unit listed for rent in the state with the department of business regulation.

After being vetoed by Gov. Dan McKee it was overridden during the beginning of the General Assembly session this year.

Asked about the progress of the registry, Jennifer McGee, a spokesperson for the Commerce Department said “The staff at the Department of Business Regulations are working through several issues.  They have chosen a software vendor and have had initial meetings to draft regulations.”

Language in the draft of the proposed ordinance also states that after an application is filed for a short-term rental the dwelling unit then becomes subject to inspection by the Building Official, or their designee, and the Fire Marshal.

“The purpose of the inspection is to determine the occupancy limit of the unit pursuant to Sec. X of this chapter, to determine if smoke and CO2 detectors are installed in compliance with the State Fire Code for dwelling units and to determine the number of off-street and on-street parking spaces available,” the proposed draft ordinance reads. “The Building Official or his/her designee shall issue a short-term rental permit stating the maximum occupancy for the dwelling unit.”

The permits under the proposal would be good for one year from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31. The permit registration fee would be $100 for each dwelling unit.

Newport, which has comprehensive ordinances and regulations in place also charges a $100 registration fee.


The proposed ordinance lays out mechanisms for enforcing the ordinance. Any violation of the zoning ordinance is enforceable through a summons by any zoning enforcement official for the City. The violations and citations are adjudicated by the Warwick Municipal Court.

“Any violation of the provisions of this chapter shall be subject to a fine of not more than $100 per day for a first violation, $250 per day for a second violation, and $500 per day for a third and each subsequent violation, and such fines may be imposed for each day the violation continues,” the proposed draft ordinance reads.

The proposed draft ordinance also states that the Zoning Enforcement Official can revoke a short-term rental permit, if the violator admits, or is found guilty in court, of having three or more violations, for the same property, within a twelve-month period.

“No new permit shall be issued to the property owner for the same property for a period of 12 months following the revocation,” the draft proposed ordinance reads.

What’s next

Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur, who represents Wilson, is expected to be the lead sponsor on the final version of the ordinance. Ladouceur said on Tuesday that he was going to be having discussions this week with Wilson and DeCorte regarding the proposal.

While Wilson has some concerns about the ordinance including language that considers a bedroom 70 square feet, she favors  an ordinance. Ladouceur said on Tuesday he has similar concerns over  language and isn’t sold on allowing non-owner occupancies for short-term rentals

short-term rentals, ordinance


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