South Portland moves toward restricting short-term rentals

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SOUTH PORTLAND — City councilors after a Dec. 11 workshop were leaning toward enacting a ban on non-owner-occupied short-term home rentals in residential areas.

Assistant City Manager Joshua Reny laid out a draft policy for regulating such rentals offered on vacation rental sites like Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway, particularly in more densely populated neighborhoods like Willard Square, Loveitt’s Field, Meetinghouse Hill and Knightville. 

According to Reny, as of 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 is $124 per night, according to Airbnb, he said.

Councilors eventually directed the city manager and city counsel to have a first reading of a draft policy prepared for January. 

Some residents who rent their homes said the income helps them make ends meet, maintain their buildings, or save for retirement or college tuition. 

Opponents said the constant coming-and-going of renters erodes the character of the neighborhoods they have lived in for decades, and negatively impacts their quality of life. 

One resident said on two blocks in her neighborhood, there are six short-term rental properties. She said they dissuade families from moving to the neighborhood and mar its character.  

Another resident, who owns a rental property in the city, said she understands the concerns about short-term rentals, but hopes the city can find a middle ground that satisfies both sides.

John Murphy, of the new South Portland Short Term Renters Association, said he empathized with neighbors, but there are ways to work through the issues, suggesting the number of rentals in the city be capped. 

Georgia Williamson, of Victory Avenue, said to her, the existing code language is clear: you cannot run boutique hotels in residential neighborhoods. 

Two overarching issues are to be sorted out: nuisance complaints, and preserving the integrity of the city’s neighborhoods.

In the framework drafted by Reny, three types of rentals were identified: a hosted stay in a homeowner-occupied residence, non-owner-occupied homes, and owner-occupied homes with separate rental sections. 

Units that are not the owner’s primary residence will be prohibited from being rented in residential zones, according to the proposal, but allowed in other neighborhoods that permit mixed-use or commercial enterprises. A cap of 90 rental days per year, on a short-term basis, is also recommended for dwellings that have a rented section of the home when the homeowner is not present. 

The city would implement a computerized registration program to ensure owners are abiding by city ordinance and the dwellings are up to code. Self-inspection is suggested for registration, although city officials and the Fire Department would have the authority to review the rentals.

Registration fees are also suggested, proposed between $250 and $500, depending on the type of rental. The fee system would pay for the registration system, Reny said. 

If a unit is determined to be noncompliant, registration could be revoked. 

Short-term rental is defined as any dwelling rented for less than 30 days, and it was suggested a listing cannot be rented more than once every seven days, to reduce traffic and turnover.

Councilor Claude Morgan said this is a difficult subject, but commerce in a residential neighborhood is simply not allowed.

“You can’t run a gas station on your lawn, and you can’t have a coffee shop in your house. We tell you what to do with your property all the time,” Morgan said. “My obligation is to the ordinance language that exists and what it preserves.”

Morgan said he would like neighbors to see relief by next summer, and have a policy in place by that time. 

Councilors seemed favorable to a suggestion the areas that include Ferry Village and Pleasantdale be added to the list of neighborhoods where non-owner-occupied rentals are prohibited. 

Mayor Linda Cohen said residential neighborhoods keep the community strong.

“I’m seeing a breakdown of that,” Cohen said. “It’s time to get back in touch and back together.”

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

South Portland resident Georgia Williamson speaks out against allowing short-term rentals in residential areas of the city at a City Council workshop Dec. 11.