South Portland picks Seattle company to track short-term rentals

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council on Tuesday voted 4-2 to hire the Seattle-based company that Portland uses to help identify, monitor and ensure code compliance of short-term rentals. 

After ordinance amendments that prohibit unhosted short-term rentals in the city’s residential areas were passed by voters last month, city officials began looking into monitoring software that will help code enforcement staff identify unauthorized non-hosted rentals in residential zones. The software will also make sure that authorized hosted and non-hosted rentals are registered with the city and comply with short-term rental ordinance provisions.

Host Compliance LLC was selected from four companies that submitted bids to the city. The company’s proposed fee is the second-highest, but Assistant City Manager Josh Reny said the demonstration he and other officials received made it apparent the company’s services would best meet the city’s needs.

According to Reny, Host Compliance provides what is essentially an annual subscription to cloud-based software. All of the data is easy to download and would be easily transfered if the city ever terminates the contract. Reny suggested the city review, and potentially renew, the contract with Host Compliance after a year.

The minimum fee for service is $15,000 annually, which includes monitoring 24 websites, weekly updates on short-term rental listings, and weekly matching of listings with the city’s registration database.

An improved service, for $19,500, plus an additional nearly $3,500 for automated compliance notification and mailing, monitors more than 50 websites, updates listings every three days, and provides real-time registration matches.

The city budget includes $20,000 for the Code Enforcement Office to contract for third-party monitoring. Reny noted that fees associated with violations, as well as registration fees adopted by the council, will help cover the cost of monitoring. 

Host Compliance serves more than 150 local governments, according to its proposal to the city. In Portland, where the City Council recently approved changes to the short-term rental ordinance, Host Compliance monitors the number of short-term rental units advertised on the internet and ensures the ads display a city permit.

Newly elected Councilors April Caricchio and Misha Pride voted in the minority on Tuesday. 

Caricchio said she’d rather see the money pay for a part-time position within the city to monitor short-term rental activity, saying she’s “uncomfortable” with the bid being awarded to a company on the other side of the country. 

Morgan said he understood concerns with a cloud-based approach to monitoring and said the city might eventually agree that a City Hall employee would be a better fit to do the job. But for right now, he said, Host Compliance is the city’s best option, since the rental ordinance changes take effect Jan. 1, 2019. 

Online short-term rental registration will begin after city officials negotiate a contract with Host Compliance and the software is up and running. In the meantime, residents can register their ordinance-compliant properties at the city clerk’s office or by completing paperwork posted on the city website.

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

After taking the oath of office Monday night, Dec. 3, in South Portland, recently elected Councilors April Caricchio, left, and Misha Pride exchange words of thanks with former Mayor Linda Cohen as she steps down from the dais for the last time after serving six years on the council.

Former South Portland Mayor Linda Cohen congratulates Councilor Claude Morgan after he was unanimously appointed mayor for 2019. 

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