Revised short-term rental rules near for Cape Elizabeth

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The discussion over how to regulate short-term rentals may finally be approaching a resolution after more than 20 meetings in the last year.

At a morning Ordinance Committee meeting Wednesday, Town Councilors agreed to move drafted language for the revised short-term rental ordinance to the Nov. 14 council meeting.

The ordinance has been through several revisions in recent months between the Ordinance Committee, Planning Board and Town Council. The aim of the ordinance is to deter renters from disrupting neighborhoods and crowding streets with overflow parking.

Town Councilor David Sherman said Wednesday that he is comfortable with the ordinance as it’s drafted and that it’s time to get policies in place.

“We could legislate this thing to death, but what we need to do is see it work,” he said.

The proposed amendments would require owners of short-term rental properties to adhere to several new regulations and to go through a permitting process before their property can be rented.

Permits will only be granted after an inspection from 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.

The drafted ordinance restricts the number of tenants to no more than two residents per bedroom and does not allow more than eight tenants in one property at any time. 

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.

A “three-strikes” rule is included in the latest draft, giving 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 the Zoning Board by the property owner.

“This whole ordinance defines the standard for the substantiation of a complaint,” Councilor Jim Walsh said. “Right now, it’s left to opinion.”

The council discussed extending the three-strikes rule further to indefinitely suspend a permit if complaints about a property continued after the initial suspension, but the suggestion was considered too restrictive.

In another ordinance amendment related to short-term rentals, the committee, along with Police Chief Neil Williams, is recommending more detailed language under the “Disturbing the Peace” section of the miscellaneous offenses ordinance.

The draft amendment includes violations for “excessive volume of music” and sets quiet hours beginning at 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, and from 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

The amendment draft also holds property owners responsible for noise violations.

According to a town report drawn from house-renting websites, more than 30 properties this year are listed as short-term rentals in Cape Elizabeth. 

Sandra Dunham, who owns a short-term rental on Becky’s Cove Lane with her husband, Tom, said although the process has been long and drawn out, it has helped to solve problems.

“It’s led to rental owners being more aware of their neighbors,” Dunham said. “And the biggest thing that’s come out of all this, is that you have neighbors talking to neighbors.”

Tom Dunham agreed and said, “it’s time to wrap it up; it’s been 14 months.”

The council will vote on the amendments at its next meeting at 7 p.m., Nov. 14, at Town Hall.

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.