South Portland council on path to relax proposed short-term rental regulations

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council Tuesday night reached consensus on modifications to a short-term rental ordinance that would allow vacationing residents to rent out their homes for up to two weeks at a stretch.

But the modifications discussed Tuesday leave the core of the original restrictions intact: non-hosted short-term rentals would still be barred.

The amendments will allow two adults per room, with a cap of six people in an owner-occupied rental. Owners of apartment buildings with at least four units would be able to rent out two apartments as long as they live in one of the other units, and all short-term rentals would have to be licensed by the city.

The council dropped the language that would have prevented people from renting their homes out for a week or two while they are on vacation.

Councilor Claude Morgan drafted the modifications, which councilors agreed to explore in a first reading May 15. If adopted, people operating short-term rentals would have to be in compliance with the new city regulations by Jan. 1, 2019.

Councilor Eben Rose said the council ended up where it did because of the most extreme cases, when entire homes are rented on a continual basis without an owner present, which leads to more traffic and disruptive behavior.

Rose said he wants to see language strong enough to close any loopholes in existing zoning language after councilors decided to nix language in a land-use ordinance that said a use is prohibited if it is not expressly allowed.

The prior, short-lived rental restrictions were adopted in February, then repealed early this month after opponents collected enough petition signatures to force the council to revisit the decision.

The council has been working on the issue since last July and has heard more than 12 hours of public comment in addition to emails and phone calls, according to Mayor Linda Cohen. She said the process has been “a dialogue” with the community.

But the divisiveness of the issue remained apparent during public comment Tuesday, with people on both sides staunchly arguing their positions – condemning short-terms rentals as illegal businesses that erode the community, or defending them as a means for people to supplement their incomes and part of a tradition of renting in the city.

The repealed ordinance – aimed at online services like Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway – would have banned non-owner-occupied rentals in all residential neighborhoods. Hosted stays, where the homeowner is present, would have still been possible in all areas of the city, and stays without owners present would have been allowed only in commercial and mixed-use neighborhoods. Short-term rentals were defined as any stay of 30 days or less.

According to Assistant City Manager  Joshua Reny, as of last November, there were 282 short-term rentals listed in South Portland, with 75 percent of those for entire homes. A quarter of the listings were for single rooms in a home. The average price for an entire home in South Portland was $124 per night, according to Airbnb, he said.

Reny and Daggett will work to incorporate the new model into the original ordinance language, and Planning Director Tex Haeuser will help decide parking issues and how they relate to the number of guests in a home.

Morgan said he was humbled by the petition process, which included enough signatures to force the council to repeal the law or send it to a referendum. Morgan said he was listening to the public when they said the council went too far in restricting rentals.

“I am keenly aware we fell short of some people’s expectations,” he said.

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at jlaaka@theforecaster.net or on Twitter @JulietteLaaka.

Patricia Morrison speaks against non-homeowner-occupied short-term rentals in residential sections of South Portland Tuesday night, April 24, during a City Council workshop.

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