West Tisbury passes short-term rental bylaw

West Tisbury voters approved the short-term rental bylaw in April. —Sam Houghton

West Tisbury residents passed a new set of regulations at town meeting Tuesday night that would require homeowners to register their short-term rentals with the town.

The regulation is intended to cut down on corporations shadowing as LLCs from buying up properties in West Tisbury and renting them out through Airbnb and other online rental platforms. And with litigation unfolding with the town of Nantucket casting some uncertainty on the short-term rental market, proponents say the regulations would allow the short-term rentals to continue to operate.

After discussion that went on well over an hour, the regulation passed by a vote of 151 to 12.

Still, opponents were worried that the regulations would dig into their profits as homeowners who have grown to rely on income generated from short-term rentals. Several said that they needed to rent their homes through Airbnb to afford to live on the Vineyard.

Much of Tuesday night’s discussion focused on the minimum number of nights that an Airbnb host could rent a home. Setting a higher number of days would mean less turnover at the rentals, and thus less traffic; but short-term rental hosts argued that added restrictions would be problematic. 

The original article would have set a minimum of seven nights, which was then decreased twice on town meeting floor.

In perhaps the most emotional portion of Tuesday’s meeting, short-term rental proponent Jennifer Woods urged voters to support an amendment to the article language that would set a minimum number of nights that a home could be rented at two nights. 

Short-term rental hosts, like Woods, argued that three nights was too long a stay. They said that many visitors to the Island plan a weekend stay on the Island; forcing them to rent a home for a minimum of three nights would force visitors to other parts of the Island, outside West Tisbury.

Woods, a mother of three, said that she lives in a camper for a portion of the summer while renting out her home through Airbnb, just so she can afford to live on the Vineyard for the year. The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School graduate said that adding new limitations for short-term rentals would jeopardize her operation.

“You’re taking money away from me,” she proclaimed to the audience in the West Tisbury School gymnasium.

Voters seemed to hear her plea, agreeing to set a minimum threshold at two nights.

Following the amendment, voters passed the general bylaw, despite claims that the regulation would be a bureaucratic overreach. 

Key to the new regulation is a provision that individuals who rent a short-term rental must live in the house for at least 30 days of the year. 

The regulation will still need approval from the state’s attorney general.

West Tisbury residents also supported a building code change that would require new buildings to be more energy-efficient. 

The new code will require some new buildings which rely on fossil fuels for heating and other purposes to be partially powered by solar energy. The intention is to encourage building homes that don’t rely on fossil fuels.

The article passed by a vote of 136 in favor, with 77 opposed.

A couple of West Tisbury residents voiced concern about the proposal, including Adam Petkus, the building inspector in Aquinnah and Chilmark. He argued that the code could inflate an already costly building market; he also said that some of the building projects would result in more waste in landfills. 

But others urged voters to support the more energy-efficient code, including Samantha Look, executive director of the Vineyard Conservation Society. She said that in the face of climate change, residents need to support more energy-efficient standards and reduce the use of fossil fuels for a healthier planet. “In order to do that, we have to make real change,” Look said.

Voters also decided to officially change Columbus Day on the town’s calendar to Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and they supported funding for upgrades to the West Tisbury library’s heating and cooling system.


  1. The short term rental by law passed by WT residents seems well intentioned. The real test will come with implementation by Town Select Board on establishing rules, fees, inspections and enforcement. Hopefully they will not be so draconian that the little guy who rents their property to help with costs will not be squeezed out!

Comments are closed.