SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Clerk’s Office has certified 1,000 petition signatures needed to force the City Council to reconsider a modified version of controversial short-term rental regulations approved in July.

It’s the second time that a referendum petition has succeeded in resurrecting a bitter community dispute over the council’s effort to regulate popular room and home rentals advertised on websites such as Airbnb and HomeAway.

Both petition drives were led by Michael Frabotta, a Preble Street resident who has spoken against the regulations and the council’s handling of the issue at several public meetings.

The successful petition stops ordinance amendments that were approved July 17 from going into effect in January, City Clerk Emily Scully said Friday. It also forces the council to reconsider the modified regulations at its next regular meeting, Aug. 21.

The council must decide whether to repeal the modified regulations or send them to a citywide vote Nov. 6, Scully said. The council is expected to postpone its decision and schedule a public hearing on the regulations on Sept. 4, when the council would be required to take action one way or the other.

The modified short-term rental regulations, based on original rules passed by a 6-1 vote in February, retained at their core a ban on unhosted or non-owner-occupied short-term rentals in all residential neighborhoods.


Frabotta and fellow petitioners had to collect at least 1,000 signatures from registered South Portland voters, an amount that represents 5 percent of registered voters at the last regular municipal election.

In March, Frabotta’s first petition drive turned into a confrontational process. Supporters of the regulations said petitioners were giving false information as they gathered signatures, so they “shadowed” petitioners to offer their take on the ordinances before voters signed. Police issued a cease harassment notice to one person at Frabotta’s request.

In July, the council concluded nearly four hours of heated testimony and deliberations with two 5-2 votes on the retooled rules, which would have allowed hosted or owner-occupied short-term rentals in all zoning districts.

A majority of councilors acted to stop single-family homes from being bought up and rented out for unhosted stays of less than 30 consecutive days at a time. The regulations would have taken effect Jan. 1.

South Portland is among dozens of cities across the country that have wrangled with the growing popularity of short-term rentals available through websites such as Airbnb and HomeAway.

As of last November, there were 282 short-term rentals in South Portland listed on multiple websites, and 75 percent of them were for entire homes, according to the city’s online consultant.


In the retooled regulations, the council made a number of concessions related to hosted stays, such as allowing two adult guests per bedroom, with a maximum of six guests per house. The original ordinance capped the total number of guests at two adults.

The council also dropped an initial ban on homeowners renting out their houses while on vacation. Owners of detached single-family homes may rent their houses for at least seven days and as many as 14 days per year when they are away.

The petition certified Friday also stops city staff from moving ahead with the council’s order to organize a series of moderated community forums in the coming months to gather feedback on the regulations and suggest changes that might be considered in the future.

Councilor Susan Henderson proposed the forums as a way to resolve anger and distrust that’s apparent among residents on both sides of the issue. However, supporters of the regulations showed little interest and opponents questioned why the forums weren’t held sooner.


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