Tisbury looking to regulate commercial timeshares

The special and annual town meeting warrants will close by March 22.

Tisbury is considering a timeshare amendment to its zoning bylaw. — Eunki Seonwoo

Updated April 24

Tisbury is working to regulate the commercial use of timeshare ownership in town, but how to actually implement it is a challenge. The town is proposing a zoning change as a way to protect the limited housing stock, potentially as an article for the spring town meeting.

“We’re noticing the proliferation of companies that are essentially selling fractional ownership of properties,” Tisbury planning board chair Ben Robinson said during a meeting with the town’s select board Wednesday, March 16. He later said the proposed bylaw would prevent companies from marketing existing homes as being available for fractional ownership. 

Martha’s Vineyard isn’t the only community that is concerned with these types of arrangements. The Nantucket Current reported that there is an ongoing lawsuit to block Californian startup Pacaso from operating timeshare properties in a Nantucket residential neighborhood. 

“Nantucket has a timeshare bylaw in place,” Robinson said, adding that Nantucket is revising the bylaw and planning to send it to voters. “We’re seeing this now on the Cape, and we’re just starting to see it on the Vineyard, and this was an effort to get ahead of it.”

The bylaw will need to be amended over the next several years as the timeshare market develops, but Robinson said getting a bylaw “in the books” early will be beneficial. 

According to Robinson, planning boards of the other Vineyard towns are drafting their own timeshare bylaw proposals. Robinson said Tisbury’s version borrowed from existing timeshare bylaws. 

While this can be a good business model for some communities, since it can be a method to share a resource, Robinson says that’s not necessarily the case for the Vineyard. “The problem in our condition here is that the second-home market that this falls into is overtaking the year-round home market,” he said. 

The bylaw would not apply to non-commercial groups, such as families. 

Board member John Cahill questioned how the town could know if this was taking place, and what enforcement measures would exist. Robinson acknowledged that enforcement is “always tricky” for this issue. 

“You’d have to keep an eye on it,” Robinson said, adding that working with real estate agents on the Island is a possibility. “A lot of these are online companies, so you could monitor it by [advertisements].”

Tisbury Fire Chief Greg Leland underscored that the bylaw should not “alienate” people who use fractional ownership in an appropriate way. Regarding enforcement, he later said once a property is deeded and in the register, it is past the enforcement phase. “They already own it at that point,” he said. “What are you doing with it at that point? Are we forcing them to sell it? You’ve got to catch it first.” 

Tisbury’s attorney, David Doneski, pointed out that while zoning can restrict use, it cannot regulate ownership. “Recording a deed is not an enforceable action,” he said. “It’s the question of using the property as a timeshare or interval ownership, interval time period unit. So the monitoring of the registry, for example, could be done, but that would not in and of itself create an enforceable activity. It’s the actual carrying out of the use that falls within the description of the bylaw.” 

Tisbury town administrator John Grande said monitoring and enforcement may be an issue because of a lack of available staff. “If we’re not clear about who’s enforcing or managing this, it shouldn’t go forward until you have that all worked out,” he said.

Robinson pointed out that companies interested in marketing timeshare properties pay attention to what towns do. “If they see a town take a step to say, ‘We’re not interested,’ they probably won’t be marketing themselves here,” he said. 

After further discussion, Robinson said further work will be done on the proposed bylaw. 

The selected board was expected to close the special town meeting and annual town meeting warrants yesterday, after the Times’ print deadline.

The board plans to meet at the Katharine Cornell Theater during its next meeting. 

Meanwhile, the Main Street paving project will take place from Monday, April 17, to Friday, April 21. 


  1. As usual Ben Robinson says the sky is falling but has no data to back it up. How many properties have been bought by these companies? How many Tisbury residents have been displaced by these fractional ownership properties? Are off island people really interested in owning a fractional ownership of a property on the island for January? This seems like a solution looking for a problem.

    • There is no market in January.
      Have you been here in January?

      Some people are forward thinking, some are not.
      Would you like to see half of the Island’s housing stock be time share?

  2. Vermont has implemented a system that is fair, and works. They created grants for housing, they allowed tax incentives, and most importantly, and this is where the Planning Board should concentrate, is they modifies zoning to make it easier to create affordable housing. A major problem exists with house lots and the ability to be creative. They also did some work to make it more difficult for long term vacation rentals but all of this is online. Ludlow VT took it a step further and reduced electrical rates by building its own power plant and selling electricity using thousands of solar panels. The cost of electricity for Ludlow residents is far lower than VT in general but this program has been in place in various strategies for over a century. I have no opinion on time shares other than this may be okay, but it is missing the point. State wide grants, tax incentives and zoning adapted to the new needs are what Zoning Board should be all over.

  3. Can someone explain to me how fractional ownership is worse than weekly rentals? It would almost seem to me that fractional ownership would be better than weekly rentals as these people would then have a vested interest in wanting to maintain the property and be part of the community. Weekly renters not so much. Is the problem RENTALS to begin with? Or people doing weekly rentals in effect running a commercial business in a residential zone. So that’s what we do now we read the Nantucket paper and then follow.

    • What America needs to do is to tell Americans how many people can own one property.

      Follow Nantucket, make the Vineyard as plastic.

  4. Perhaps our real estate companies who sell island properties would be the first ones aware of off-island conglomerates buying up what could be homes for our workers, and therefor could then alert the town boards of this offensive purchasing which deprives needy folks who actually live and are employed here to find shelter.
    Too many of our most essential workers are leaving because of desperately lacking housing for their families, causing the year round population confronted with an unexpected quandary when crises arrive or teachers and nurses are wanted.

    • You want real estate agents to report who is buying what and for what purpose to the town? The very people whose job is to get the highest price for the seller or the lowest price for the buyer?
      Would you take, say $700,000 less, for one of your properties to keep a real estate conglomerate from buying it?

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