South Portland may ban short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods

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SOUTH PORTLAND — At a fourth workshop on short-term housing rentals, city councilors agreed Wednesday night to ban non-owner-occupied rentals in all residential neighborhoods. 

Councilors cannot take a formal vote during a workshop; the meeting was intended to gather public input and direct Assistant City Manager Joshua Reny as he crafts ordinance language. 

If adopted by the council in February, the ordinance would take effect June 1. 

Councilors also nixed so-called “Type II” rentals, or rentals of primary residences for less than 90 days. This action would prohibit, for example, rental of a primary home while the owner is away on a three-week vacation. 

Several residents spoke against the Type II rental option, contending it creates a loophole that allows disruption of residential neighborhoods in peak seasons.

Attention then focused on hosted stays and rental of non-owner-occupied residences.

Hosted stays, where a visitor may rent a room while owners are also living on the premises, would be allowed in all areas of the city. Non-owner-occupied rentals will only be allowed in mixed-use and commercial neighborhoods, such as Knightville. 

Opponents of the restrictions argued the ability to rent their properties via online services like Airbnb or VRBO is a vital piece of supplemental income. Those who sought bans in residential neighborhoods said the rentals have essentially created neighborhoods without neighbors. 

A short-term rental is defined by the city as a rental for less than 30 days, and the debate is concentrated in the densely populated neighborhoods in the Willard Square, Loveitt’s Field, Meetinghouse Hill and Knightville neighborhoods. 

According to 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.

The council first began discussing the issue last July, when Councilor Susan Henderson said she was receiving complaints from constituents about parking issues, noise and disruptive behavior caused by some renters. 

On Wednesday, with about 100 people bringing council chambers nearly to capacity, public comment and questions were taken, and councilors then informally stated their positions on specific policy areas. Concerns centered around whether to control the number of guests, duration of visits, and parking requirements. 

A Margaret Street resident said she would like to purchase a home in the city, but can only rent, because homes are being purchased by people with more means who are hoping to offer a second residence for rent.

A short-term rental owner, John Murphy, suggested the council create a committee with varying viewpoints to work out the issue and provide guidance. Others contended the issue is pitting residents against each other, a result of inaction by the city and the council. 

Several residents said the housing market has gone haywire in the city, with people paying $50,000 more in cash than the asking price of a property, making it cost-prohibitive for some people and families to settle in the city. 

Councilors eventually agreed people interested in offering their homes as short-term rentals will be required to register with the city, and could be subject to inspection by the Fire Department with a notice of 48 hours. Owners offering hosted stays would also have to present documentation to prove the rental property is their primary residence.

Failure to register with the city could be punishable by fines. A third-party, internet-based platform linked to a graphic information system will be used to track registrations and lengths of stays, Reny said. A registration deadline of April 15 was suggested by councilors if the ordinance on Feb. 6 gets the first of two required approvals. 

Councilors decided not to impose additional parking requirements for short-term rentals, and also informally agreed that for a hosted stay, a two-person limit per room should be enacted. For other rentals, some councilors said there should be no limit to the number of people staying, but Councilor Kate Lewis said she would prefer the Fire Department determine what is appropriate, based on the particular house and fire codes. 

Councilor Adrian Dowling said an occupancy limit would avoid situations where dozens of people end up in a single home.

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext.,106 or at

Assistant City Manager Joshua Reny presents a second draft of a short-term rental ordinance during a packed City Council workshop Jan. 24.