SOUTH PORTLAND — The city could soon start regulating the use of short-term housing rental brokers such as Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO.

Councilors say the issue is a priority and plan to hold another workshop in early November. In the meantime, City Hall staff will craft an ordinance based on local laws adopted by Portland, according to City Manager Scott Morelli.

Residents who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting say homebuyers are turning single-family homes into short-term rentals and many owners do not live in the homes. Residents are concerned that trend could hollow out prime neighborhoods and increase housing prices.

Residents told the council that homes in the popular Willard Beach neighborhood are selling overnight for far above asking prices – by as much as $30,000 – and are then turned into short-term rentals.

About 50 people filled council chambers on Wednesday evening, a rare occurrence for a workshop.

“I can see this destroying neighborhoods,” Councilor Brad Fox said. “I can see this being mini unregulated capitalism at its worst.”

Fox said he wants to see some “very strong regulations” put into place.

“We can’t come up with some wishy-washy things that we sometimes do to make people happy,” Fox said. “We need to come up with something tough to protect the neighborhoods.”

Fox said he wants to “make sure they don’t spread like a cancer.”

Twenty-two people spoke during the workshop, with some residents describing parties, alcohol use, frequent early-morning noise disturbances and obscenities.

Peggy Fuller, who lives on Grant Street, said she has Airbnb rentals on both sides.

“It is no different than living next to a motel. It isn’t a motel, but it is like a motel,” Fuller said.

Louise Tate, who lives on Deake Street, said a single-family home in her neighborhood is being rented out to 16 people at a time.

“I’m very frightened,” Tate said. “It seems to be a commercial operation in a residential neighborhood. I don’t understand it – 16 people in a small home.”

Others who own rental proprieties told councilors their investment properties are not causing problems. Some said they live in their properties full time or live nearby, and their rentals help the local economy.

Ted Sillars said he owns an Airbnb building, but he is a carpenter, “not a fat-cat owner.” He said the rental gives him an opportunity for retirement. He said he and his partner live two blocks away and “have put their heart and soul” into the property.

“Our guests are amazing,” Sillars said.

Sillars told the council that Airbnb shouldn’t be regulated.

“People are coming to this part of the country because it’s beautiful,” Sillars said. “It gives people the opportunity to occupy a space that has been set up for them.”

Diane Romano, who owns a home on Simonton Street in the Willard Beach neighborhood with her husband, called this summer the worst in her life. She said there are seven houses on her street and, at any given time, three of them appear to be rented out.

Dan Romano described barking dogs every night, five or six cars in a yard, being woken up every night, and a three-day party with people screaming obscenities.

Marilys Scheindel and her husband, Robert, of Cape Elizabeth, own three single-family homes they rent out. She called the homes her family’s future homes: one for her and her husband, and one for each child. She said the family plans to occupy the homes and are using the rental income to afford the properties. They maintain their homes and regularly meet with the tenants, she said.

Robert Scheindel said the couple is not unsympathetic to the issues faced by residents, but noted they pay more than $7,000 a year in taxes to the city. He said the Airbnbs and other short-term rentals “drive economic value” and benefit local businesses.

Roberta Zuckerman, who lives on Preble Street, said she used to host people in her home using her son’s former bedroom for two years, but no longer does. She said she is concerned about non-owner-occupied homes.

“I think it contributes to the escalating costs of housing,” Zuckerman said.

Councilor Claude Morgan said, after hearing the comments, he wants to focus on non-owner-occupied homes. He said he would want a registry of all short-term rentals, similar to what the city is doing with long-term rentals.

“I think it is common sense to have a registry. If you are going to rent out a home I think the city should have an interest in knowing,” Morgan said. ” … I think the resolution that I’m looking for (is) that a reasonable person would have reasonable relief from non-neighborhood-like activities.”

Councilor Linda Cohen agreed that the council needs to do something to address the issue, but said she isn’t sure a registration system is the answer. She also pointed out that implementing a registration process would require extra work, which would mean added expense for the city.

Councilor Eben Rose expressed concern about single-family homes that are not owner-occupied. “We have clearly said our residential zones are for single-family homes,” he said.

Rose said he likes Portland’s ordinance, which includes fees for hosts and occupancy caps on buildings. Portland also requires apartments or houses rented for 30 days or less to be registered.

“Just to get the ball rolling, we can start by using Portland’s ordinances,” Rose said. “This will take a big chunk of the problem away.”

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