Published in the August 10, 2016 edition


LYNNFIELD — The owner of a Needham Road home who occasionally rents it out and which was the scene of a still unsolved murder on Memorial Day weekend will be able to continue renting his property until at least Sept. 6.

Last week, the Lynnfield Zoning Board of Appeals continued a hearing of the appeal of Alexander Styller, 8 Needham Rd. Styller was asking the board to reject a decision by Building Inspector John Roberto III forbidding the use of the single family home as a short-term rental facility.

Neighbors and others turned out for the hearing. One was Selectman Richard Dalton, whose daughter lives near Styller’s home. Dalton told the appeals board that his grandchildren were so afraid following the May 29 murder of Randolph resident Keivan Heath that they were not able to sleep in their own home. Dalton said Styller renting his house out to strangers certainly has had a negative impact on Dalton’s relatives and the practice must stop.

The appeals’ hearing was continued to the board’s September meeting. Roberto does not enforce cease and desist orders until he has a decision from the appeals board.

Prior to the May murder, the town had no idea Styller was renting out his house.

Styller, who estimates that he rented out his home about six times in the last year, told the Board of Appeals on Aug. 2 that he already has an agreement with someone who wants to rent his property for a week this month.

Styller openly admits he occasionally rents out his five bedroom home set in the woods between Chestnut Street and the Beaver Dam Brook Reservation. He did over Memorial Day weekend to some people who said they planned a small college reunion. Reports said about 100 people showed up and one of them, the 33-year-old Heath, was shot and killed.

Roberto and others contend that Styller’s rental of the property he owns and lives in most of the time violates the town’s zoning bylaws that prohibit short-term rentals in the single-family zoning district. These types of rentals are classified as a hotel, lodging or rooming house use.

Much of the zoning board discussion last week revolved around definitions. In the end, members decided to let Roberto and Town Counsel Thomas Mullen draft another cease and desist order that would prohibit Styller from renting his house for a certain short period of time (two to 30 days) in a single family residential district and would eliminate some of the definitions listed in the original order.

Styller’s attorney, Les Riordan, said his client “is not running a hotel. He’s renting out his home.”

Trickett Road resident Wayne Perry told the appeals board he did a quick online search of lodging houses in Lynnfield and Styller’s photograph appeared alongside his home, which rents for $2,219 a night. “It’s advertised as an online business and he takes online bookings,” Perry said, disputing Riordan’s characterization of how Styller is using his house.

One Needham Road resident said that every time Styller’s house was rented out there were parties and a lot of noise.

Roberto stated in the original cease and desist letter to Styller that a special permit only allows lodging house uses from the ZBA and Styller has never received a special permit. The order also requires Styller to “remove all mention of the premises from the Airbnb website and any similar marketing platform.”

The Board of Appeals was advised by Mullen to eliminate mention of any advertising prohibition in the new order as well.

Styller’s appeal, filed by Riordan, requested the Lynnfield Zoning Board of Appeals to make findings of “fact to wit that the rental of Styller’s personal residence on a short-term basis does not constitute the operation of a hotel or lodging or rooming house as those terms are used in the zoning bylaws of the town of Lynnfield. …”

Styller claimed in his appeal that he is no longer renting the home for parties and has updated his online Airbnb account to reflect that change. Styller told the press in May that he rented out his home over Memorial Day weekend to a group of people for what he thought would be a small college reunion of about 20 people.

“At the time of the appeal, Styller only holds the property out for short-term vacation rentals,” reads the appeal. “The property is rented only for vacation type rentals ranging from two days (weekend rentals) to one month. Styller only rents the residence in its entirety — as a single unit to one renter.”

Styller claimed in the appeal he only rents out the home when he is on vacation and the rentals “are not regular.”

In the appeal, Styller argues the zoning bylaw’s Single Residence RC Zoning District “contains no express provision restricting the rental of a single-family residence as a whole — including vacation rentals.”

“Lynnfield does permit in the RC district, as an accessory use (allowed without a special permit), the regular renting of rooms or the furnishing of table board in a dwelling by prearrangement,” reads the appeal.

Styller based his appeal on several areas.

• Styller’s infrequent vacation rentals of his personal residence are expressly allowed by the Lynnfield zoning bylaws.

• Styller’s residence does not constitute a hotel as defined in the Lynnfield zoning bylaws or under Massachusetts’ law.

• Styller’s residence does not constitute a board or rooming house as defined in the Lynnfield zoning bylaws or under Massachusetts’ law.

• Styller’s residence does not constitute a lodging house as defined in the Lynnfield zoning bylaws or under Massachusetts’ law.

Not much testimony was given by the audience of about 25 at the hearing, especially after Board of Appeals Chairman Tom Aylward said discussion would be limited to the merits of the enforcement order. If this had been a special permit hearing, just about any comment could be made.

Additionally, appeals’ members made clear that they were sympathetic to the fact that a tragedy had occurred at the home.

At one point, alternate member Pat Rondeau and Aylward suggested one way around Styller’s predicament was for him to apply for a special permit so he could rent out his home on a short-term basis. Neither Riordan nor his client seemed interested in that.

In a response to Styller’s appeal, Mullen wrote in a July 31 memo that “Where our Zoning Bylaws allow a single family residential use, they do not purport to distinguish between the use of such a residence by an owner and the use by a long-term lessee. However, most of us would recognize that one who purchases a residential property for the purpose of leasing the whole of it repeatedly to various lessees for 2 to 30 days each is conducting an essentially commercial activity. …”

Mullen had characterized what Styller was doing as “serial short term rental,” something Riordan objected to.