Smaller Portland Housing Committee still working on short-term rentals

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PORTLAND — The City Council Housing Committee begins 2017 reduced in size, with one new member, and a vexing question.

The committee was reduced from five to three members this year, with Councilors Belinda Ray, Spencer Thibodeau and Nick Mavodones Jr. no longer taking part.

Yet it is work from Ray and Thibodeau on how the city may regulate short-term housing rentals that will be up for discussion again when the committee meets at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 11 in City Hall.

“I’m excited about it. The test for me is how to figure out how I lead the committee and make sure everybody feels like they are part of the work,” Councilor Jill Duson said Dec. 16.

Duson begins her second year leading the committee created by Mayor Ethan Strimling in December 2015, and continues to work with Councilor David Brenerman. Joining them is Councilor Brian Batson, inaugurated Dec. 5 after he defeated former Councilor Ed Suslovic Nov. 8.

“David is incredibly thoughtful and brings a different perspective to the table and I look forward to Brian’s fresh eyes. He is an incredibly hard worker,” Duson said.

The committee had previously agreed on nearly a dozen principles that would be part of regulating short-term rentals, including registrations with the city Housing Safety Office, defining short-term rentals as 30 days or fewer, dedicating all registration fees and any fines to the city Housing Trust Fund, and applying the city Disorderly House Ordinance to ensure short-term rentals are not problems in neighborhoods.

The specific fee structure and differentiating between owner-occupied and non owner-occupied short term rentals remains unresolved, as committee members considered policy proposals from Ray and Thibodeau.

The two then drafted a compromise that would place a $35 registration fee on owner-occupied single homes used for short-term rentals, and a $5,000 registration fee for short-term rentals in single family homes that are not owner-occupied.

The compromise also caps the number of short-term rentals in multiple unit buildings, again based on whether the buildings are owner-occupied. The fee structure would remain consistent, beginning at $250 for a single unit, increasing to $4,000 for a fifth unit, and then to $8,000 for each additional unit thereafter.

“I’m one of those people who thinks current zoning does not allow short-term rentals. I think it is a change that matches where the city is going,” Duson said.

The committee has expressed its support for short-term rentals as a way to help homeowners earn income that may help pay increasing city property taxes.

“The single owner model can be a way for people to stay in their homes,” Duson said. “We still have to balance it to reduce impact on neighborhoods.”

After months of hearings and testimony, the committee presented its first set of recommendations on “housing insecurity” to the full City Council in October. Those measures, including requiring more advance notice on rent increases and requiring tenants and landlords to review and sign paperwork explaining their rights, took effect last week.

Duson said the year’s work was not fully reflected in the ordinance amendments.

“We created a deep and broad record on current housing in the city. We have a pretty good sense of data,” she said. “It is up on the website and indexed. We know what it we are basing decisions on.”

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

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.
  • Edward Kearney

    With the work done so far, with AirBnb calling the shots, the City is headed to ZOMBIE NEIGHBORHOODS. Any dwelling anywhere in the City can become a hotel with minimum entry fee. The hotel owner doesn’t have to be present. I have 15 AirBnb units within a half mile of my house.

  • Chew H Bird

    The article states: “The committee has expressed its support for short-term rentals as a way to help homeowners earn income that may help pay increasing city property taxes.”

    The real problem is the increasing property taxes…

    So hypothetically, if I have a family home but need to work somewhere else (live full time), I would pay the exorbitant fee of $5,000 if I wanted to do short term rentals to offset the rising property taxes and maintenance? This sounds crazy to me.

    My brother has a family home, (inherited), and he maintains it and uses it every July. May, June, August he rents it to offset the property taxes and other costs of ownership. This proposed plan would likely force him to sell the longtime family home.

    • Edward Kearney

      You can download the proposed plans from the Housing Committee’s space on the City’s website.

      • Chew H Bird

        Thank you.

    • Mika

      Not so hypothetically, family homes are being bought in our neighborhood by investors and the homes are to be used as inns, lodging houses, event houses, hotels whatever you call them. They are poorly maintained and occupied by short term visitors. There is no on -site supervision and there are no safety inspections. The neighborhood loses “neighbors” and we, in the neighborhood, maintain the ambience so treasured by AirBnb proponents. We pay taxes and for those taxes, the city supposedly provides us with protection and quality of life. Being forced to sell our “family” homes because of the intolerable conditions of unfettered noise, all night events and a citywide refusal to enforce in place zoning codes, is OK with you? Of course, making a buck “trumps” any sense of living in a civilized society. Empty homes without families (rental or purchased) do not make a neighborhood worth living in.

      • Chew H Bird

        Of course what you are describing is not ok, (and should not be ok with anyone).

        The activity of short term rentals has been going on “forever”. It is the audience and the volume of short term rentals that has changed due to instant availability online to a world wide audience coupled with a lack of responsibility by the people renting out their homes.

        The solution, in my uneducated opinion, is not for the city to “protect” through fees (like an old fashioned mob movie), but to intelligently provide some sort of “virtual zoning” with penalties for non compliance with established neighborhood standards.

        Whacking people with fees up front is a poor way to stave off the unstoppable influence of technology and poor decisions that come with it. Providing a set of standards and methodology so neighborhoods can maintain their continuity, look and feel, and sense of community is a more positive approach (in my opinion).

        • Mika

          Fees and fines for noncompliance have worked well in cities like Berlin. By insisting on the owner on -site cities have curbed the explosion of AirBnb . I certainly agree with you about standards. which currently exist as zoning laws. However, at this time, there has been a moratorium on enforcement because of the activity of AirBnb activists and AirBnb lawyers, threatening to sue the city. The AirBnb lobby is
          a $30 billion corporation with their lawyers already in direct communication with the City Staff and city government. (freedom of info documentation). It is a sophisticated operation and the road to success for them must be continued growth. Our equity drives their success. Thank you for your response.

  • June

    One of the joys of being a Portland resident is the opportunity to live in a neighborhood in which people are friendly, considerate, and helpful to one another. Turning homes in established neighborhoods into commercial ventures creates an entirely different atmosphere. Suddenly your house is next door to a hotel. A live-in home owner who rents out one room at a time may not be a problem, but we have already experienced serious problems with some airbnbs. Why is the city allowing investors to reap the benefits of our well-kept neighborhoods to the detriment of its residents? Why has the city decided to not enforce its own zoning laws? Why isn’t Portland standing up for its taxpaying citizens who, by choosing to live here, every day provide services of all kinds and support schools, local organizations and events, and businesses?