Airbnb rentals violate Fairfield’s zoning regs
FAIRFIELD — As holiday travel ramps up, some local homeowners are bringing in extra money through short-term rentals. But many of them may be in violation of local zoning codes.
Airbnb, one of the popular platforms for short-term rentals around the world, currently has 90 listings in the town of Fairfield. According to the company, 12,400 guests stayed in Fairfield County in summer 2019, generating $3.6 million of income for host in the county.
Perusing Airbnb’s listings in Fairfield, one encounters a slew of options, ranging from private rooms to rent for a few days to massive houses that can fit six or more of your closest friends.
According to Fairfield’s zoning regulations, both these options are prohibited.
The town’s zoning codes say rental rooms must be leased out for a minimum of 30 days, effectively barring short-term rentals. While entire houses don’t have the same time restrictions, no more than five unrelated individuals are allowed to stay in them at once.
Of the 90 Fairfield listings currently on Airbnb, 31 are private rooms for rent. While some visitors may reserve a private room for the required 30 days, any renters staying for just a few days — the key demographic short-term rental sites like Airbnb cater to — are in violation of local laws.
Thirty-three Fairfield homes on Airbnb, meanwhile, fit six or more guests. Though some of these renters may be “related individuals” on a family vacation, other common Airbnb rental groups, such as friends taking a weekend getaway or coworkers on a bonding retreat, are acting against zoning codes.
Only 26 — less than 30 percent — of Fairfield’s current Airbnb listings are completely out of the woods when it comes to the possibility of violating local laws. These consist of entire houses for rent fitting under six guests, as well as a few hotel rooms listed on the site.
Reached for comment, a spokesperson for Airbnb said it is the responsibility of hosts to comply with all local laws pertaining to short-term rentals.
“Airbnb informs hosts in our Terms of Service that they are responsible for identifying, understanding and complying with all laws, rules and regulations that apply to their listings,” the spokesperson said.
According to Planning Director Jim Wendt, the town does not actively police Airbnb rentals, but they do enforce the requirements when they receive complaints.
Most complaints, Wendt said, come in from neighbors against large groups staying in a nearby home. These complaints usually originate as concerns about the number of cars in a driveway or reports of loud parties.
While the Plan and Zoning Department is aware that these illicit Airbnb rentals are widespread, such complaints are relatively infrequent.
“I’m sure they’re out there,” Wendt said. “But only a limited number of complaints have gotten to our office.”
When complaints do reach him, Wendt sends letters to homeowners notifying them of the violation.
So far, Airbnb has not been a major political issue in Fairfield. Longer-term rentals, though, have been a source of conflict, such as with neighbors objecting to Fairfield University student housing in the beach area.
It’s still up in the air whether Airbnb rentals will become a similar point of contention in Fairfield.
Wendt said the level of the problem will depend largely on whether short-term rentals become more pervasive or disruptive in the future.
“It’s really going to depend on how folks behave,” he said.