The hidden bed and breakfast businesses of Wilton
Technically, Wilton is a town without a hotel, without a motel, without even a bed and breakfast. But you would never know that from looking at the online listings for Wilton on Airbnb, the website for people who rent their homes or rooms out as bed and breakfasts.
The page shows seemingly dozens of listings for Wilton, many in ordinary suburban homes.
And not a single one of them is operating legally, on the books, as a bed and breakfast for which inspections are made and taxes are paid. There has never been any investigation because there have never been any complaints, according to the town’s zoning enforcement officer, who declined to be interviewed.
One bills itself as a peaceful New England retreat, for $60 a night, which is actually less than the cost of a mainstream motel. “A simple blend of personal hospitality and delicious cuisine in a beautiful New England setting. We offer an inspirational and personal forest sanctuary setting for any number of artistic and outdoor pursuits,” is what it advertises.
The owner did not respond to a request for an interview.
Another bills itself as a large room in a quiet home, for $150 a night. “Extremely large room, parking, laundry, internet WiFi. Very convenient location, walk to Wilton town center, train station, close to I 95 and Merritt,” the ad says, and it even charges an occupancy tax of $45, even though it is operating off the town books.
Again, the owner did not return a request for an interview about the operation.
In nearby Ridgefield, there have been several crackdowns by zoning enforcement officials on Airbnb operations there. But that is because complaints were made. Wilton has had no complaints thus far, and the Airbnb homes seem to be operating under the radar.
Ridgefield Zoning Enforcement Officer Richard Baldelli checked the website thoroughly more than two years ago after a complaint came in about a fraternity party being held at a private residence whose owners had rented it out through Airbnb.
Homeowners need a specific permit from Planning and Zoning to operate as a bed and breakfast. In one case two years ago in Ridgefield, a yoga school was found to be functioning as a bed and breakfast by renting out a furnished barn for the night. That turned out to be doubly illegal because it was not a residence to begin with and the building never had a permit for a converted living space, Baldelli said.
Wilton is not going to become involved in the Airbnb cases if there are no complaints, for several reasons, said Bob Nerney, the town planning director.
“We are aware some towns have created regulations, but many of them tend to be destination communities, particular tourist communities where there are a lot of people coming in from out of town,” Nerney said.
But Wilton has had no complaints about these operations.
“That is usually the barometer that something is askew,” Nerney said.
If there were complaints, though, about noise or traffic in a residential neighborhood, for example, the town would investigate.
“If it is something that becomes an obvious problem in the community, we’ll have that discussion with the commission and pursue it,” Nerney said.