SOUTH PORTLAND — City councilors were unanimous Monday in saying they want to ban short-term rentals of homes that aren’t owner-occupied in residential neighborhoods, despite pleas from owners who said it would damage them financially.

At the same time, councilors said they would allow owner-occupied short-term rentals in residential and other districts under an evolving set of proposed regulations that city staff members said would be difficult to enforce under traditional mechanisms.

The council responded to complaints from residents who say the spread of short-term rentals, like those advertised on Airbnb.com and similar websites, are tearing at the fabric of the city’s residential neighborhoods.

Short-term rentals aren’t listed as permitted uses in South Portland’s residential zoning districts, but they aren’t explicitly prohibited, like many commercial uses.

Assistant City Manager Joshua Reny said there are 282 short-term rentals in the city that are listed on various home-sharing websites, according to Host Compliance, a third-party web service. Seventy-five percent are whole-unit rentals and 70 percent are in single-family homes, Reny said.

Short-term rentals, like those listed with airbnb, have sprung up in the Willard Beach neighborhood of South Portland. Some are separate homes like this one on Preble Street. Airbnb’s 210 active listings in the city logged 10,800 guests in the last year. Staff photo by Derek Davis

“We’re taking whole houses off the market,” said Councilor Kate Lewis. “That to me says we’re eroding neighborhood character.”

Councilor Susan Henderson said: “I’m sorry for individuals who may be hurt by this. … Perhaps if people had checked (what is allowed under the zoning ordinance) earlier.”

Councilor Eben Rose said, “I’m OK with having non-owner-occupied inns where inns are allowed.”

Councilors said they would support allowing owner-occupied short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods in part because having an owner on site likely would alleviate complaints about rowdy guests keeping neighbors up all night.

South Portland is the latest community to tackle problems related to short-term rentals that are cropping up in residential neighborhoods and raising concerns among full-time residents. Short-term rentals are rooms or homes that are leased for a few days to a few weeks at a time.

The council held its third workshop on the topic Monday, when councilors discussed banning or regulating various types of residence-based, short-term rentals across the city.

Airbnb reports having 210 active listings in South Portland – many in the Willard Beach neighborhood – with 10,800 inbound guests in the past year. There are 950 active Airbnb listings in Portland and 7,700 statewide.

More than 25 people addressed the council on the issue, including residents who emphasized that short-term rentals aren’t allowed in residential neighborhoods under current zoning, regardless of how well they’re run.

“South Portland’s current codes clearly state that tourist lodging and tourist accommodations are illegal in residential zones,” said Georgia Williamson of Victory Avenue. “The code is crystal clear to me, and the investors who purchased properties have gambled that they could run boutique hotels in residential neighborhoods where they are not welcome and illegal.”

Short-term rental owners recently formed an association that submitted a proposal to the council that would put the association in charge of regulating its members. Several of them spoke at the workshop.

Eileen Dugan of Haven Road said she and her partner used their retirement money to purchase a second single-family house two years ago several blocks away that they operate as a short-term rental June through September.

“We as a group would like the opportunity to remedy this situation,” Dugan said. “We ask that the council and our neighbors please give us the opportunity to rectify this situation by imposing limitations on our homes that will be enforced by us and abided by our guests in order to ensure that we can all live together peacefully.”

In defending their pending action, councilors noted that whole-house short-term rentals are especially concerning because they remove single-family homes from a real estate market where city officials are struggling to create much-needed affordable housing.

And with short-term rentals going for an average of $175 per night, not counting security deposits and cleaning fees, they’ve also helped to drive up home prices in the city’s eastern neighborhoods and put pressure on long-term rental prices.

Hiring a third-party web service like Home Compliance to help regulate short-term rentals could cost as much as $25,000 per year, Reny said.

The council asked city staff members to draft refined ordinance changes for a first reading in January.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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