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Portsmouth couple denied permission to rent property on Airbnb

Union Leader Correspondent

November 22. 2017 4:46AM
Barbara Jenny went before the zoning board in Portsmouth Tuesday night to ask for an appeal of a city official's cease-and-desist order on her Airbnb. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)

PORTSMOUTH — A couple will not be able to rent out their property on Airbnb short-term after the zoning board denied their appeal Tuesday night.

Matthew Beebe and Barbara Jenny own Working Stiff Properties and live at 81 Lincoln Ave. They bought 87 Lincoln Ave. last year, intending that some day her daughter, a traveling musician, and son-in-law could live there. In the meantime, they planned to rent the property.

But the couple was served with a cease-and-desist order last summer from a code enforcement officer after neighbor Peter Fernald complained to the city.

Tuesday’s hearing was a rehearing on the couple’s appeal to the board. They were not present at the first appeal hearing.

During her 20-minute PowerPoint presentation before the board, Jenny said the city’s administrative rule regarding short-term rentals is not valid and is enforced selectively.

Jenny displayed screenshots of Airbnb and HomeAway listings in Portsmouth. She said City Attorney Robert Sullivan told her she could complain about each of them if she wished, but that the city would take no action otherwise.

Jenny called out Fernald, who made the complaint against her.

“The complainant has always referred to us as absentee landlords. We live 16 feet from Lilac House and we are closer to Lilac House than our garage. To refer to us as absentee landlords is quite a stretch,” Jenny said.

Fernald spoke and said permitting short-term rentals in the city of Portsmouth is a slippery slope that could lead to wealthy developers in other cities opening small hotels under the guise of Airbnb.

“Matt and Barbara believe living next door makes a difference, and maybe it does, but where does the city draw the line?” Fernald said.

ZBA member Arthur Parrott did not buy Jenny’s argument. He said if a state trooper doesn’t catch every speeder in the traffic circle on a given morning, that doesn’t give the one person who is given a ticket an argument before a judge.

Parrott said Jenny and Beebe claim they are not running a business because the building is a single-family dwelling, but they are, because money is exchanged.

“What in the world is it if it is not a business or commercial transaction?” Parrott said. “When you have people exchange money in return for goods and service, I call it a business.”

Vice Chairman Charles LeMay said he has used Airbnb before, and he thinks the home-sharing service is swell, but the matter before the board is whether the code enforcement officer who served the cease-and-desist order was acting in good faith.

The board found the city official was not acting unlawfully and denied the couple’s appeal.

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