South Portland council repeals short-term rental restrictions

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The city is going back to the drawing board over how to regulate short-term housing rentals.

Rather than send the question to a voter referendum, the City Council Tuesday night unanimously repealed an ordinance it passed in February that established restrictions on short-term rentals in residential areas of the city.

Councilor Claude Morgan moved to repeal the ordinance; Councilor Eben Rose was absent.

There was little council discussion before the vote, although Councilor Kate Lewis said she supported repealing the ordinance because of concerns about corporate money pouring into the city to influence the vote. She said it is the council’s responsibility, not the voters’, to resolve the issue.

The council has held four workshops in addition to regular meetings on the issue since last October.  The next workshop is scheduled for April 24 at 7 p.m.

Opponents returned more than 1,000 petition signatures last month challenging the new rules.

The ordinance – aimed at services like Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway – would have banned non-owner-occupied rentals in all residential neighborhoods. Hosted stays, where the homeowner is present, in all areas of the city would have still been possible, and non-homeowner-occupied rentals would have been allowed only in commercial and mixed-use neighborhoods.

Short-term rentals are defined as any stay of 30 days or less.

During public comment Tuesday, most residents spoke in favor of repeal. They said the city is divided, and pushing the issue to the polls would cause bitterness and continued turmoil.

Georgia Williamson said the city should rescind the ordinance and enforce existing codes that, by her interpretation, prohibit short-term rental activity in the city.

Diane Romano said she trusts the council to make the right decision and recommended repealing the ordinance and making minor adjustments and changes to the language.

Daniel Romano said he believes in the people of South Portland and believes in the voters, and said he was not afraid to take the vote to residents. He said he has spoken to hundreds of people in the city who wanted regulations enforced.

Rebecca Young said she and her 4-year-old son joined the South Portland community in January after first discovering in the area through an Airbnb rental. Young urged the council to repeal the ordinance, seeing “a lot of room for compromise.”

Former Councilor Rosemarie DeAngelis, who came to the meeting after watching at home, said she was compelled to speak because she was fuming.

“What the council did was the right thing, to protect residential neighborhoods,” DeAngelis said. “Going to referendum doesn’t frighten me. Bring it to the public, I’m ready to do the work.”

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.

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

Resident Diane Romano addresses the South Portland City Council Tuesday, April 3. She asked councilors to repeal the city’s short-term rental ordinance and make adjustments to the language.

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