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Cape Elizabeth adopts '3-strikes' rule for rowdy rental homes

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Cape Elizabeth adopts '3-strikes' rule for rowdy rental homes

CAPE ELIZABETH — The Town Council approved a long-awaited ordinance governing short-term home rentals Wednesday night, largely seen as a compromise between the interests of rental providers and residents who live near those properties.

The new ordinance, which was molded through more than 20 meetings over 14 months, is an effort to regulate nuisance rental properties in residential neighborhoods.

Although several residents continued to express concerns about the ordinance, saying it is too restrictive, doesn't fully address subleasing problems and lacks clarity on a "three-strikes" protocol for habitual offenders, the council majority agreed to move forward with the new rules.

"My view is to get this in place and see how it works," Councilor David Sherman said. "If there's a rash of business short-term rentals that show up, then we can take another look at it."

The ordinance requires rental property owners to adhere to several new regulations and go through a permitting process for leases of less than 30 days.

Permits will only be granted after an inspection by a town code officer determines the rental has adequate fire extinguishers, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, proof of sanitary waste disposal, appropriate exits and evacuation plans.

It also restricts the number of tenants to no more than two per bedroom and does not allow more than eight tenants in one property at any time on lots less than 30,000 square feet. 

Applicants will also have to provide a description of how parking will be provided at the property and include a detailed renter's agreement that lists emergency contact information, maximum number of guests allowed and a copy of the town's miscellaneous offenses ordinance.

The three-strikes rule gives the town the ability to revoke permits for a year if a rental property has more than three substantiated complaints reported to the police or the code enforcement officer in a three-year period. Property owners can obtain a new permit after the year of suspension.

Complaints to police will be substantiated by the code enforcement officer and can be appealed to the Zoning Board by the property owner.

Sandy Dunham, who owns a rental property on Becky's Cove, said she still has some reservations about the ordinance, but overall, thinks it will improve the situation.

"I'm not too overly enthusiastic about filling out the forms and paying a fee, but I do support some changes to the ordinance on subletting," she said. "Hopefully it will improve the issues and problems on Lawson Road," referring to the neighborhood where many of the complaints originated.

The ordinance continued to be debated between councilors and the public at the meeting, but Council Chairwoman Sara Lennon, who was chairing her last meeting as a town councilor, pushed the discussion along, noting that the council was not going to redraft the ordinance at this stage. 

"Not everyone is happy with this, which usually means it's good," Lennon said.

The council voted 5-1 to approve the new rules, with Councilor Caitlin Jordan opposed and Councilor Kathy Ray absent.

"You can make as many phone calls as you want to complain about ordinances we already have," Jordan said, noting one of her issues with the rules is the provision that only allows one tenant per seven-day period. "It's an overreaching fix that we're putting on the town right now. ... It really is a restrictive thing on property rights."

The ordinance will take effect Dec. 14 and the council will revisit the new rules in a year to assess their effectiveness.

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or wgraff@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.