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Warwick Short Term Rental Regulation: A Guide For Airbnb Hosts

Warwick, Rhode Island

Starting a Short Term Rental Business in Warwick

The City of Warwick finds that registering and regulating short-term rentals can have a positive effect on the health, safety and welfare of the community by providing safe accommodations for travelers, while contributing to the local economy and supporting historical preservation efforts. Short-term rentals, often facilitated through online platforms like Airbnb and VRBO, have grown increasingly popular in recent years as an alternative to traditional hotels. They offer visitors the opportunity to stay in unique properties, experience local neighborhoods, and often save money compared to hotel rates.

However, the rapid growth of short-term rentals has also raised concerns in many communities about their potential negative impacts, such as noise, parking congestion, disorderly behavior, and the displacement of long-term residents. In response, many cities and towns across the country have implemented regulations to balance the benefits and challenges of short-term rentals, and Warwick is no exception.

In February 2023, Warwick passed a comprehensive short-term rental ordinance that added STRs as a permitted use in residential and mixed-use village zones, but prohibited them in commercial and industrial areas. The city uses the same definition as the state of Rhode Island, identifying a short-term rental as any residential unit rented for less than 31 consecutive days.

While the ordinance aims to minimize potential negative impacts on neighborhoods, it also recognizes the economic opportunity that short-term rentals provide for homeowners and the local economy by drawing visitors to the area. Some residents have expressed concerns about absentee landlords and problem properties disrupting the character and safety of residential areas, but city officials believe that reasonable regulations developed in partnership with stakeholders can allow STRs to operate successfully without negatively impacting neighborhoods.

Short Term Rental Licensing Requirement in Warwick

All short-term rental properties in Warwick must be registered annually with both the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation and the local government. The state registration process is relatively simple and can be completed online through the DBR website, with a $50 annual fee per property. However, the city's permitting process is more involved and requires an annual inspection to ensure compliance with building, fire, and safety codes.

To obtain a Short-Term Rental Permit from the City of Warwick, property owners must submit an application through the city's online permitting system, including an Owner's Affidavit and copies of the relevant city ordinances. The application must also identify a local contact person who can respond to any issues or complaints within 30 minutes.

Once the application is submitted, the owner must schedule an inspection with the Warwick Building Department to verify that the property meets all applicable safety requirements, such as smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, and proper egress. If the property passes inspection and all other requirements are met, the city will issue a Short-Term Rental Permit that must be renewed annually.

Violations of the short-term rental ordinance are enforced as zoning violations by the Warwick Building Department and can result in fines of up to $500 per day. Two or more violations can lead to a short-term rental permit being revoked, and operating without a valid permit can result in even steeper fines and legal action.

The city uses the state's short-term rental registration list to aid in local enforcement efforts, but since the state registry relies on voluntary registration by owners, Warwick officials are aware that there are likely STR properties operating without proper state or local permits. To address this, the city has allocated additional resources to proactively identify and investigate unlicensed short-term rentals.

Required Documents for Warwick Short Term Rentals

To register a short-term rental in Warwick, property owners must submit the following documents through the city's online permitting system:

  • Owner's Affidavit: A sworn statement by the property owner attesting that the information provided in the application is true and accurate, and agreeing to comply with all applicable laws and regulations.
  • Relevant City Ordinances: Copies of the city's short-term rental ordinance and any other relevant zoning or building codes, to demonstrate that the owner has reviewed and understands the requirements.
  • Completed Short-Term Rental Application: A detailed application form that includes information about the property, such as the address, owner's contact information, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, maximum occupancy, parking spaces available, and the local contact person who will be available to respond to any issues.
  • Floor Plan: A sketch or diagram of the property's layout, indicating the location of bedrooms, exits, smoke detectors, and fire extinguishers.
  • Proof of Insurance: Evidence of liability insurance coverage of at least $500,000 per occurrence for bodily injury and property damage.
  • Permit Fee: A non-refundable application fee of $150, plus an annual permit fee of $100 per bedroom, up to a maximum of $500 per year.

In addition to these required documents, the city may also request additional information or documentation as needed to verify compliance with the short-term rental ordinance and other applicable laws. Failure to provide complete and accurate information can result in delays or denial of the permit application.

Warwick Short Term Rental Taxes

Short-term rental owners in Warwick are required to collect and remit multiple taxes on their rental income, just like traditional hotels and bed and breakfasts. These taxes include:

  • 7% Rhode Island sales tax: Applies to all short-term rentals, regardless of the length of stay or type of property.
  • 5% state hotel tax: Applies to rentals of an entire home or apartment for less than 30 consecutive days.
  • 1% local hotel tax: Applies to all short-term rentals in Warwick, in addition to the state taxes.

The 5% state hotel tax revenue is distributed by statutory formula to various recipients, including the state Commerce Corporation, municipalities, the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau, and regional tourism councils. In fiscal year 2017, Warwick and other municipalities received over $3.2 million in aggregate from their portion of the statewide hotel tax, which can be used to fund local services and infrastructure.

Owners who rent an entire home as a short-term rental must collect the 7% sales tax and 1% local hotel tax, while those renting a single room must also add the 5% state hotel tax. Proper filing and payment of short-term rental taxes is the responsibility of the owner, unless they use a rental agency or booking platform that collects tax on their behalf.

To comply with tax requirements, short-term rental owners must register with the Rhode Island Division of Taxation and obtain a sales tax permit, which can be done online or by mail. They must then file monthly tax returns and remit the collected taxes to the state, using Form STL-275 for the state and local hotel taxes and Form STL-200 for the sales tax.

Failure to properly collect and remit short-term rental taxes can result in penalties, interest, and legal action by the state tax authorities. Owners should keep detailed records of all rental transactions, including dates, guest information, and amounts collected, to support their tax filings and respond to any audits or inquiries.

Warwick-wide Short Term Rental Rules

Warwick's short-term rental ordinance includes several city-wide rules and restrictions designed to minimize the impact of STRs on residential neighborhoods and ensure the safety of guests. Some of the key provisions include:

  • Prohibition on STRs in certain types of dwellings: Short-term rentals are not allowed in accessory dwelling units (in-law apartments), accessory structures like sheds or garages, affordable or below-market-rate housing units, units with outstanding code violations, or properties hosting weddings or special events.
  • Occupancy limits: The maximum occupancy of a short-term rental is limited to two people per bedroom, plus two additional people per rental unit. For example, a two-bedroom STR could host up to six guests total. Children under the age of two are not counted towards the occupancy limit.
  • Parking requirements: Short-term rentals must provide one off-street parking space per bedroom, with a maximum of four spaces required. Parking on lawns or landscaped areas is prohibited.
  • Rental information and record-keeping: Owners must provide the city with detailed rental information, including guest names, home addresses, phone numbers, and vehicle registrations, and maintain those records for at least 180 days. However, this requirement has raised concerns about potentially violating the privacy rights of guests.
  • Safety requirements: All short-term rentals must have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, and clear evacuation routes. Outdoor fires are prohibited, and grills must be at least 10 feet away from any structure.
  • Noise and nuisance provisions: Short-term rental guests must comply with the city's noise ordinance and avoid creating any nuisance or disturbance to neighbors. Owners are responsible for ensuring that guests follow these rules and can be fined or have their permit revoked for repeated violations.
  • Local contact requirement: Every short-term rental must have a designated local contact person who is available 24/7 to respond to any issues or complaints within 30 minutes. This contact can be the owner, property manager, or another responsible party, but they must be able to quickly address any problems that arise.

These rules apply to all short-term rentals in Warwick, regardless of the platform or method used to advertise or book the property. Owners are responsible for ensuring that their guests are aware of and comply with these requirements, and for promptly addressing any violations or complaints.

Does Warwick strictly enforce STR rules?

Based on discussions among short-term rental owners and operators on forums like BiggerPockets and Reddit, as well as local media reports, it appears that Warwick does actively enforce its short-term rental regulations, with some owners reporting violations and fines for operating without proper registration or failing to comply with other requirements.

A review of Warwick Airbnb listings in September 2023 found over 20 properties advertised for short-term rent, along with photos and map locations. However, the city's official registry as of that same month only included 41 applications, with just 13 permits issued so far. This suggests that potentially dozens of short-term rentals are still operating without proper licensing or oversight.

City officials have acknowledged the challenge of identifying and regulating all short-term rentals, given the rapid growth of the industry and the limitations of the state's voluntary registration system. However, they have also emphasized the importance of a level playing field and fair competition between STRs and traditional lodging businesses, as well as the need to protect public safety and neighborhood quality of life.

To address these concerns, Warwick has allocated additional resources to proactively identify and investigate unlicensed short-term rentals, using a combination of data analysis, online research, and field inspections. The city has also worked to educate owners and residents about the requirements of the STR ordinance, through public meetings, mailers, and online resources.

Compared to other cities in Rhode Island, Warwick seems to take a relatively strict approach to regulating short-term rentals, with more detailed requirements and enforcement provisions than some neighboring communities. However, city officials have emphasized that the goal is not to eliminate STRs altogether, but rather to find a balance that allows them to operate successfully while minimizing negative impacts.

Some short-term rental owners have expressed frustration with the city's rules, arguing that they are overly burdensome and make it difficult for small-scale operators to compete with larger, more established players. Others have welcomed the regulations as a way to level the playing field and ensure that everyone is following the same rules.

Ultimately, the effectiveness of Warwick's short-term rental enforcement will depend on a variety of factors, including the resources available to city staff, the cooperation of owners and residents, and the evolving nature of the STR industry itself. As more cities and states grapple with how to regulate this growing sector, Warwick's experience may offer valuable lessons and best practices for other communities to consider.

How to Start a Short Term Rental Business in Warwick

If you're interested in starting a short-term rental business in Warwick, here are the key steps you'll need to follow to ensure compliance with the city's regulations and set yourself up for success:

  • Research the market: Before investing in a short-term rental property, it's important to understand the local market conditions, including demand for STRs, typical occupancy rates and nightly prices, and competition from other properties. Look at data from platforms like Airbnb and VRBO, as well as local tourism statistics and economic indicators.
  • Choose a property: Once you have a sense of the market, start looking for properties that meet the city's zoning and building requirements for short-term rentals. Consider factors like location, size, amenities, and potential rental income when evaluating properties.
  • Review the regulations: Carefully review Warwick's short-term rental ordinance and any other relevant zoning, building, or tax laws to ensure that your property is eligible for an STR permit and that you understand all of the requirements and restrictions.
  • Register with the state: Before applying for a city permit, you'll need to register your short-term rental with the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation and pay the annual $50 fee. This can be done online through the DBR website.
  • Apply for a city permit: Once you've registered with the state, submit a Short-Term Rental Application through Warwick's online permitting portal, along with all required documents and fees. This includes an Owner's Affidavit, copies of relevant ordinances, a floor plan, proof of insurance, and permit fees.
  • Schedule an inspection: After submitting your application, contact the Warwick Building Department to schedule a fire and building safety inspection of your property. Make sure that all required safety features, such as smoke detectors and fire extinguishers, are in place and working properly.
  • Obtain your permit: If your application is approved and your property passes inspection, the city will issue you a Short-Term Rental Permit that must be renewed annually. Keep a copy of the permit on display in your rental unit at all times.
  • Register for taxes: As a short-term rental operator, you'll be responsible for collecting and remitting various state and local taxes on your rental income. Register with the Rhode Island Division of Taxation to obtain a sales tax permit and familiarize yourself with the filing and payment requirements.
  • Prepare your property: Before welcoming your first guests, make sure that your short-term rental is clean, well-maintained, and properly equipped with all necessary furnishings, linens, and amenities. Consider hiring a professional cleaning service and investing in high-quality photos to showcase your property online.
  • Create your listing: Once your property is ready, create a listing on popular short-term rental platforms like Airbnb and VRBO. Be sure to include detailed descriptions, high-quality photos, and accurate information about your property's location, amenities, and house rules.
  • Set your pricing: Determine a competitive nightly rate for your short-term rental based on factors like location, size, amenities, and seasonality. Consider using dynamic pricing tools to automatically adjust your rates based on demand and other market conditions.
  • Manage your bookings: As reservations start coming in, be responsive to guest inquiries and requests, and provide clear check-in instructions and house rules. Consider using a property management software or service to streamline tasks like scheduling, communication, and cleaning.
  • Comply with regulations: Throughout your operation, make sure to comply with all applicable laws and regulations, including occupancy limits, parking requirements, safety standards, and record-keeping obligations. Promptly address any issues or complaints that arise, and maintain open communication with city officials and neighbors.
  • Seek professional advice: Starting a short-term rental business can be complex, with various legal, financial, and operational considerations. Consider seeking the advice of professionals like attorneys, accountants, and property managers to ensure that you're setting up and running your business properly.

By following these steps and being proactive about compliance and guest satisfaction, you can build a successful short-term rental business in Warwick while being a responsible member of the community.

Who to contact in Warwick about Short Term Rental Regulations and Zoning?

If you have questions or concerns about Warwick's short-term rental regulations, zoning requirements, or permitting process, there are several key city departments and officials you can contact for assistance:

  • Building Department: The Warwick Building Department is responsible for administering the city's short-term rental ordinance, including processing permit applications, conducting inspections, and enforcing compliance. You can contact the Building Department Coordinator Specialist at (401) 921-9545 or through the online permitting system at https://warwickri.viewpointcloud.com/.

What do Airbnb hosts in Warwick on Reddit and BiggerPockets think about local regulations?

Here's a sample of comments from short-term rental owners and operators in Warwick:

  • "A cursory online search of Warwick Airbnbs found more than 20 properties for short term rental along with photographs of the units and a map of their locations."16
  • "Good luck to anyone trying looking for a short term summer rental in Jamestown. So far it's not an issue in town I've heard, except maybe on the weekends when some knucklehead has a party or something."17
  • "I would like to do it again, but I don't know if it is going to happen...I got regulated out of business." - Scott Burnham, former Airbnb host in Warwick7
  • "The most important thing is to have local property management, a boots-on-the-ground person who is responsible for the property" - Lisa Mulcahy, short-term rental manager in Warwick and nearby areas9
  • "I want more local families to be able to afford and buy into our neighborhoods. I want there to be a sense of community and stability... If we have too many transient people coming into our neighborhoods that could disrupt the balance." - Robert Weaver, Warwick resident9

So in summary, while Warwick's regulations have created challenges for some short-term rental operators, many still see a path forward by working closely with city officials, maintaining open communication with neighbors, and ensuring responsible management of their properties. Prospective STR owners should do their homework, understand the rules, and be prepared to adapt to any future changes in Warwick's evolving short-term rental landscape.

Reveal your property’s rental profitability

Buy this property and list it on Airbnb.