SOUTH PORTLAND — Hotly contested short-term rental regulations will likely go to the voters in November after a majority of city councilors indicated Tuesday that they support sending the boomerang issue to referendum.

The City Council voted 7-0 Tuesday to reconsider recently modified rules for room and home rentals promoted on websites such as Airbnb and Home Away. The council will decide Sept. 4 whether to repeal the second version of ordinance changes initially approved last spring or send them to a citywide vote Nov. 6.

Councilors acted on a second citizens petition aimed at undoing their yearlong effort to develop acceptable regulations of short-term rentals, especially in residential neighborhoods.

Polled individually outside Tuesday’s meeting, six of the seven councilors said they favored letting city voters decide whether the retooled regulations approved in July should stand.

“I don’t think there’s any more we can retool them,” said Councilor Claude Morgan. “We threw in everything but the kitchen sink. I think they will do quite well with the voters.”

Mayor Linda Cohen and Councilors Maxine Beecher, Adrian Dowling, Susan Henderson and Kate Lewis also said they favored sending the regulations to referendum. Lewis said she was “very wary of huge money (from Airbnb and other short-term rental sites) coming into the city and influencing the campaign.”


Councilor Eben Rose said he opposed sending the issue to referendum because he believes the regulations are too complicated to promote effectively and win voters’ support.

The council heard from about a dozen residents who support the regulations and three short-term rental operators who oppose them. Several on both sides said they support going to referendum.

“Let’s go to referendum,” said Diane Romano of Simonton Street. “We haven’t been gathering signatures, but we haven’t been resting on our laurels.” Romano said she was “100 percent sure” voters will support the regulations.

The City Clerk’s Office two weeks ago certified 1,000 petition signatures on the second referendum petition to succeed in interrupting the council’s effort to regulate short-term rentals.

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

The latest petition stopped ordinance amendments approved July 17 from going into effect in January and forced the council to reconsider them immediately.


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 confrontational when supporters of the regulations said petitioners were giving false information as they gathered signatures. So they “shadowed” petitioners, offering their take on the ordinances before voters signed. Police issued a cease harassment notice to one person at Frabotta’s request.

The council decided to repeal and revise the regulations in response to the first petition. 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.

At that time, a majority of councilors said they were acting to stop single-family homes from being bought up and rented out for unhosted stays of less than 30 consecutive days. 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, which typically range from a few days to a few weeks.


Neighboring Portland is already looking to tighten regulations that went into effect in January because they apparently haven’t stopped the conversion of apartments and homes into tourist accommodations, whittling away precious affordable housing.

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.

This story was updated on Aug. 22 at 6:54 a.m. to add a name to the list of councilors in favor of sending the regulations to referendum.

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