SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council reached consensus this week on changes to a controversial short-term rental ordinance that would allow residents to rent out their homes for up to two weeks at a stretch.

But the modifications discussed Tuesday leave the core of the original restrictions intact: Most non-hosted short-term rentals would still be barred.

The amendments would allow two adults per room, with a cap of six people in an owner-occupied rental. Owners of apartment buildings with at least four units would be able to rent out two apartments as long as they live in one of the other units, and all short-term rentals would have to be licensed by the city.

Councilors supported dropping language that would have prevented people from renting their homes out for a week or two while they are on vacation.

Councilor Claude Morgan drafted the modifications, which councilors agreed to bring forward to a formal council meeting May 15 for a first reading. If adopted, people operating short-term rentals would have to be in compliance with the new city regulations by Jan. 1, 2019.

South Portland is one of many communities in Maine and around the country to wrestle with how to regulate short-term rentals such as those advertised on websites like Airbnb and HomeAway.

Cape Elizabeth adopted a permitting process in 2012 that allows the town to revoke the permit if the property is the subject of three complaints within three years. Portland passed a more involved registration process last April that sets a cap on the number of non-owner-occupied rentals citywide at 300.

In February, following months of intense debate, South Portland’s City Council adopted short-lived rental restrictions that were among the most restrictive so far in Greater Portland.

That ordinance banned non-owner-occupied rentals in all residential neighborhoods. Hosted stays, where the homeowner is present, were still possible in all areas of the city, and stays without owners present were allowed only in commercial and mixed-use neighborhoods. Short-term rentals were defined as any stay of 30 days or less.

However, councilors repealed the rules early this month after opponents collected enough petition signatures to force the council to revisit the decision. They met Tuesday to discuss modifications.

The divisiveness of the issue remained apparent during public comment Tuesday, with some condemning short-terms rentals as illegal businesses that erode the community and others defending them as a means for people to supplement their incomes, and part of a tradition of renting in the city.

According to Assistant City Manager Joshua Reny, as of last 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 was $124 per night, according to Airbnb.

Councilor Eben Rose said the council ended up where it did because of the most extreme cases, when entire homes are rented on a continual basis without an owner present, which leads to more traffic and disruptive behavior.

Rose said he wants to see language strong enough to close any loopholes in existing zoning limits after councilors decided to nix language in a land-use ordinance that said a use is prohibited if it is not expressly allowed.

Reny and attorney Sally Daggett of Jensen, Baird, Gardner & Henry in Portland will work to incorporate the new model into the original ordinance language, and Planning Director Tex Haeuser will help decide parking issues and how they relate to the number of guests in a home.

Morgan said he was humbled by the petition process, which included enough signatures to force the council to repeal the law or send it to a referendum. Morgan said he was listening to the public when they said the council went too far in restricting rentals.

“I am keenly aware we fell short of some people’s expectations,” he said.

Juliette Laaka can be contacted at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at:

[email protected] or on Twitter @JulietteLaaka.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.