Portland's new regulations identify fewer short-term rentals than expected

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PORTLAND — The number of short-term housing rentals registered with the city is lower than expected as new regulations take effect.

Data provided Dec. 27 by the city shows 316 rental units on 226 properties have been registered with the Housing Safety Office.

“We expected the number to be higher,” inspections Director Jonathan Rioux said Dec. 29.

Owners of housing units rented for 30 days or fewer are required to register those units and have them inspected as a result of the regulations passed by councilors in March 2017.

The city also capped the number of allowed short-term rentals in non-owner-occupied buildings at 300, but as of Dec. 27, only 121 units had been registered.

Rioux said inspections of rentals for life safety code compliance should begin next month and could be wrapped up by the middle of spring. The inspections will be done as part of the overall inspections on rental units, and Rioux said it is possible some of the short-term units have already been inspected as part of the wider program.

The order of inspections is also determined by whether buildings appear on a risk-based list compiled by the city, Rioux said.

The fee scale varies, depending on whether the building is owner-occupied or not, and increases with each unit registered. The fee for single-family homes occupied by an owner or tenant is $100.

Short-term rental fees in buildings not occupied by the owner are $200 for the first unit and increase to $4,000 per unit at five or more units. There are available discounts for prohibiting smoking, having sprinkler systems or an alarm system that can be centrally monitored by the fire department.

Owners of short-term rental units can still register them, and Rioux said he hopes the registrations will provide greater clarity on just how many units are rented for 30 days or fewer in the city.

Websites including Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway list about 320 rentals each, but those also include some hotels and inns, and the Airbnb listings include hosts outside the city. That number has varied over the years since councilors began looking at regulations, from around 200 to more than 400 in September 2016.

In drafting the new regulations, Councilor Jill Duson said the intent was not to prevent individual property owners from renting rooms or the homes they occupy as a source of income. The Housing Committee Duson led considered how to regulate short-term rentals for about six months before rules were voted on by the full council.

Rioux said the city is also working to create a publicly accessible database to show whether the units have been inspected and any complaints that may have been made about the buildings.

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.