Short-term rentals still a focus of Portland Housing Committee

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PORTLAND — Short-term rentals have become a long-term conversation for the City Council Housing Committee.

By the end of the scheduled 5 p.m. meeting Nov. 9 in City Hall, Councilor Jill Duson hopes a package of regulations on short-term rentals by homeowners and companies can be forwarded to the full City Council.

That package was partially filled during a 2 1/2-hour meeting Oct. 26, when the committee agreed on a fee structure for rental permits starting at $35 per unit and increasing with additional units.

The committee also agreed that short-term rentals shouldn’t be limited to homeowners; all short-term rentals need to be registered with the city Housing Safety Office. They also agreed to use the city disorderly house ordinance as a template for dealing with short-term rentals that draw complaints from neighbors.

Working from a policy guideline memo drafted by city Housing Planner Tyler Norod and suggestions from District 1 Councilor Belinda Ray, committee members were still unable to agree on capping the number of short-term rentals in any given building, or the number of days any unit could be offered as on a short-term basis.

Also unresolved are the number of complaints that could cause a short-term rental permit to be revoked and the fines for renting without a permit or failing to display the permit in a unit.

The Oct. 26 meeting came two weeks after a 2 1/2-hour public hearing in which 50 people spoke about the relatively new housing phenomenon which, Norod has said, nearly doubles each year.

Norod’s research of Airbnb listings in August found 439 short-term rentals listed, with 311 of those as single-family homes. In August 2015, 206 units were listed.

Committee members are not in agreement about the effect of short-term rentals on local housing stock, and asked Norod for more data on the locations of listings. His memo has suggested exempting homes on the Casco Bay islands from any regulations.

Mayor Ethan Strimling, while not a committee member, attended the meeting and suggested owners removing units from the long-term housing market should pay into the city fund that supports construction of affordable housing.

“I do think there is an impact on our housing stock and an impact on the price,” he said, adding his estimate of 100 to 125 units on the city peninsula lost to short-term rentals.

Councilor Nick Mavodones Jr. said the committee should also be looking at how to regulate short-term rentals in commercially zoned areas that may have allowed more uses of some buildings.

“I have yet to be convinced short-term rentals are really having a negative impact on the housing stock in Portland,” he added.

Ray made her suggestions based on different regulatory approaches on whether short-term rentals are occupied by owners. Homeowners would have to show proof of residence, but could be absent when renting a whole home.

For units of homes not occupied by owners, Ray suggests banning renting entire homes as short-term rentals. In both instances, she would like caps on the number of units used as short-term rentals in multi-unit buildings.

At present, she supports exempting the islands from regulations.

“I do wonder how short-term rentals are affecting the island community and I want to get a fix on that,” she said.

The committee did agree on the need for stronger action on short-term rentals that have drawn complaints from neighbors.

That discussion continued to be centered on the 233 Bradley St. home owned by former Regional School Unit 5 Superintendent Shannon Welsh, which has been listed on Airbnb specifically for larger groups.

Strimling suggested regulations to hold listing agents accountable for complaints, while Councilor Spencer Thibodeau advocated more direct action, if needed.

“No one should be able to advertise a party house,” he said. “I can’t believe they are allowed to operate.” 

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.