Friday, May 24, 2013
CAPE ELIZABETH – After 11 months and nearly 20 meetings, town officials are still trying to decide how to regulate short-term rental properties.
Laura Anderson holds her daughter, Grace, 7, outside their Lawson Road home in Cape Elizabeth. Anderson says she hasn’t noticed excessive noise in the area related to nearby short-term rental properties.
Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer
The house at 5 Sea Barn Road is one of the short-term rental properties in Cape Elizabeth that have generated noise complaints from neighbors. Known as SeaBarn, the six-bedroom oceanfront home rents for $3,000 to $5,900 a week.
Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer
They have been working on new rules because of complaints about renters throwing loud parties and clogging narrow streets with parked cars.
Homeowners who rent their properties have told town officials that the income helps them pay taxes and mortgages.
The town now has no specific requirements for short-term rental properties.
"We tried really hard to thread the needle between trying to tamp down this behavior but not shut this whole (rental) thing down in town," said Town Council Chairwoman Sara Lennon.
The council's Ordinance Committee will take up the issue again Tuesday, after receiving direction from councilors this week on how to tweak proposed zoning amendments.
Under the proposed amendments, a property owner would have to apply for a short-term rental permit, which would be issued after an inspection by the code enforcement officer. To be rented out, a property would have to have smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, a fire extinguisher and lighted egress, and a building evacuation plan.
The number of tenants would be limited depending on the size of the property, and all rental homes would have to provide off-street parking.
Town councilors will discuss a kind of "three strikes and you're out" provision to deal with properties that generate multiple complaints.
Twenty-four properties in Cape Elizabeth are listed for rent on the website Homeaway.com. They range from a "magnificent oceanfront home" for $12,000 a week to a seven-bedroom "cottage" that costs $600 a night. Attempts to reach owners of the properties were unsuccessful.
Town officials learned of problems at rental properties after town employees got complaints last summer about frequent, loud parties and many parked cars.
Town Manager Michael McGovern said it's difficult to know how many complaints the town has received because some have been logged with police while other people have called the code enforcement officer. He estimates the town receives a dozen complaints per year.
Police Chief Neil Williams said his department only recently began getting complaints, after the Town Council encouraged people to report problems to police.
He said police have not received many calls, but responded to complaints on Sea Barn Road on July 30 and July 31. The first call came around 9 p.m. on July 30, from a resident who complained about loud music at a rental house.
The next day, police responded when a discussion between a resident and a tenant got "rather loud" and someone called police, Williams said. Police spoke to both parties and left without issuing any warnings.
In between the two calls, Williams spoke with a resident who said he heard vulgar language after the loud-music incident and found beer bottles scattered on his lawn the next morning.
Most of the complaints appear to be coming from the neighborhood that includes Lawson and Sea Barn roads, where several properties are rented to short-term tenants, Lennon said.
"It doesn't fit into the cadence and rhythm of a residential neighborhood," she said. "This is a growing problem. It's not going away."
Councilor Kathy Ray said "the issue really circles around behavior." She suggested that the council look at the town's miscellaneous-offenses ordinance with an eye to improving provisions related to nuisance behavior.
In June, Chris Grennon of Sea Barn Road told the Portland Press Herald that he and his neighbors had dealt with renters playing loud music and crowding the small neighborhood with dozens of cars. He lives next to SeaBarn, a six-bedroom oceanfront home that is rented for $3,000 to $5,900 a week.
Fred Aronson, who lives next door to a short-term rental property on Lawson Road, said he has seen issues with rentals develop over the past couple years.
"People come in with varying size groups and varying courtesy to the neighbors. Some of them are pleasant and some of them are not," he said. "(These are) businesses and this is a residential neighborhood. How does that make sense?"
Not everyone in the Lawson Road neighborhood is unhappy with the presence of short-term rental properties.
Laura Anderson, who lives about a block from Sea Barn Road, said she rarely sees large gatherings or hears loud music.
"This has always been a real family-oriented street. (Some residents) were really upset when people started to rent out their houses," she said. "We've heard a couple of parties, but nothing that bothers me."
Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: