Unregulated short-term rentals

By LINDA DROLLINGER
Posted 8/26/20

BEACH LAKE, PA — Routine business took up almost the whole of the Berlin Township Board of Supervisors August 17 meeting. It wasn’t until the new business segment right before adjournment …

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Unregulated short-term rentals

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BEACH LAKE, PA — Routine business took up almost the whole of the Berlin Township Board of Supervisors August 17 meeting. It wasn’t until the new business segment right before adjournment that supervisor Cathy Hunt introduced a topic being considered up and down the river corridor on both sides of the river: the proliferation of unregulated short-term rentals.

“I get inquiries all the time from attorneys asking if Berlin Township has an official policy regarding short-term rentals,” said Hunt. “We don’t, but we probably should.”

Her concern was prompted when she found out that a small unheated summer cottage, uninhabited for years and occasionally without the benefit of running water, is being listed online as a short-term rental. “If it has a septic tank, and we don’t know that it does, it would probably be an aged, rusting metal septic tank,” said Hunt, noting that, even if there is a septic tank, no one knows where it’s located.

One of the most frequent problems associated with unregulated short-term rentals is septic tank failure, often because the tanks are old, rusting, unpumped for decades and is used by more tenants than they were designed to handle.

“This isn’t just a health and safety issue for visitors; it’s also a health and safety issue for our own emergency services people,” said Hunt, adding that the cottage in question has only a wood stove for heat, almost surely with an unworking flue and uncleaned chimney.

The discussion, supplemented by questions and comments from the gallery, continued until Hunt, also a member of the township’s planning board, recommended a certificate of occupancy as a minimum requirement for all short-term rentals. That would presumably fall within planning board purview and is one of the few regulation options available to a township with no zoning.

Supervisor Charlie Gries imagined a worst-case scenario ensuing from rental of the cottage under discussion: “There’s a chimney fire. Volunteer firefighters respond, but before they can put the fire out, they fall into a deteriorating septic tank.”

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