Portland Housing Committee turns attention to short-term rentals

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PORTLAND — A short-term rental policy is on a fast track with the City Council Housing Committee.

Councilor Jill Duson, the committee chairwoman, said Aug. 11 the committee will discuss short-term online rentals of homes, rooms and apartments when it meets at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 14 in City Hall.

The committee added short-term rentals to the agenda after City Manager Jon Jennings on Aug. 10 said the city would not enforce potential zoning violations involving short-term rentals until councilors clarify their position.

Duson said she expects Jennings will have a clearer picture by mid-October, but added she has made some personal distinctions about what parts of the market may require regulation.

She and Councilor Belinda Ray have said they are less concerned about room or unit rentals in owner-occupied homes or buildings than conversions to short-term rentals in larger, commercially owned buildings.

“I would like to be sure entire buildings are not being turned into short-term rentals,” Ray said at the Housing Committee’s July 13 meeting.

At that meeting, Housing Planner Tyler Norod said it could take six months to formulate and enact regulations for the short-term rental market because it is a relatively new housing phenomenon.

Norod said implementing fees on short-term rentals might be difficult because there is already a state lodging tax.

Cape Elizabeth enacted a short-term rental ordinance in 2012 that required property owners to have permits and property inspections; the owners also were assessed a $50 permit fee.

Airbnb.com, a leading online marketplace for short-term lodging, listed more than 300 rentals in the city Aug. 12, with a range of rooms, apartments and homes averaging $183 per night.

Duson said there have been at least four complaints about short-term rental zoning violations. On July 21, the city Zoning Board of Appeals tabled discussion of an appeal filed by the owners of a home on 481 Danforth St. in the city’s West End. City Zoning Administrator Ann Machado found the owners in violation of the city’s land use codes because of short-term rentals, but her order to cease will not be enforced.

In the near term, the committee will renew its discussions on “housing insecurity” when it meets at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 24 in City Hall. Mayor Ethan Strimling and Councilors Spencer Thibodeau and Jon Hinck have proposed ordinances to protect renter security and require relocation assistance.

Prior discussions have included whether rent control or moratoriums on no-cause eviction can be implemented. 

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.