The online home-sharing service Airbnb is continuing its rapid growth in Maine even as some communities rethink their regulatory approaches to short-term rentals like those offered by the company.

The number of guests staying at private Maine properties hosted through Airbnb grew by 45 percent this summer, to 229,000 from 158,000 in the same period last year, according to new data from the San Francisco-based company. So far this year, at least 281,000 people have stayed in a property hosted through Airbnb, almost eclipsing the total number of guests in 2017.

“The summer of 2018 was a boon for Airbnb in Vacationland, with more hosts, guests and businesses enjoying the economic opportunity of the world’s leading home-sharing community than ever before,” said Josh Meltzer, head of Northeast public policy at Airbnb.

About 5,000 hosts – 1,000 more than last summer – had guests in their properties, and Maine hosts took in $40 million in the past three months, about $13 million more than last summer, according to Airbnb. A typical Maine host will bring in $4,800 this summer, according to the company.

Pennsylvania and New Jersey have seen similar growth in guest arrivals, increasing 57 percent and 63 percent, respectively, over the past year, said Airbnb spokeswoman Liz DeBold Fusco.

The company does not disclose its revenue, DeBold Fusco said. It charges a 3 percent service fee, which means it could have made up to $1.2 million from Maine hosts this summer.

EXISTING RENTALS DRAWN TO AIRBNB SERVICE

The popularity of the online platform in Maine has grown steadily in the past few years. Some of that growth is likely attributable to a number of longtime vacation rental properties that are now being marketed through the online platform, said Ralph Baldwin, who manages three Airbnb apartments in Portland.

“Airbnb is aware that there is something unique about Maine. It has for generations had short-term rentals at lakes, ski areas, along coastal beaches,” Baldwin said. “About two years ago, Airbnb indicated that Maine is going to be an area … to move into because they felt it was a growth area for them.”

Instead of running an ad in the local newspaper or through a rental agency, some property owners like the reach and simplicity of Airbnb, Baldwin said.

“(The numbers) look like it is expansion, but I don’t think it is an expansion of available places,” he said. “They have brought existing rentals into what they have to offer.”

The rise of Airbnb and other home-sharing services like Home Away, however, is generating a backlash in some towns and cities where the boom has been particularly sharp.

Two years ago, Rockland passed extensive regulations to rein in the growth of short-term rentals in the city, and Portland passed rules requiring registration and fees last year. In July, the South Portland City Council passed a controversial measure that banned short-term rentals in non-owner-occupied homes in residential units.

PORTLAND CONSIDERS 400% FEE INCREASE

In Portland, home to more than 700 registered short-term rentals, the City Council is considering a proposal from Mayor Ethan Strimling to increase annual registration fees 400 percent, from $100 a year for the first unit to $500 a year, with similar increases for additional unit registrations.

The fee increase would put about $250,000 a year into the city’s housing fund, enough to begin replacing some of the lost long-term housing that critics say have been converted into more profitable short-term rentals, Strimling said. Others have complained that short-term rental properties can be noisy and disruptive and turn established neighborhoods into areas full of transient guests.

Summer revenue shared by Airbnb confirms that short-term rentals are making enough money to withstand a fee increase, Strimling said in an interview Tuesday.

“The amount we are charging to register these units is well below the value,” Strimling said. “If we want to try to offset the damage done by losing long-term rental units, we need to collect fees much more commensurate with the value.”

Hosts and property owners say critics exaggerate the impact of short-term rentals on the housing stock in Portland and elsewhere, noting that the city’s registered units include island properties, single bedrooms in a home, or family houses rented out a few weeks or a month per year. Some landlords prefer renting to vacationers rather than long-term tenants, and promote the idea that visitors staying in short-term rentals help the local economy by spending at neighborhood shops and restaurants.

“We recognize the need for common-sense regulation of home-sharing that balances both the concerns of local government and the fact that local hosts rely on home-sharing to make ends meet,” said Airbnb’s Meltzer. “We hope to keep working with towns and cities in every corner of this state, so that all of Maine can continue enjoying the tourist economy.”

The 10 most popular places for Airbnb rentals in Maine this summer were Portland, Bar Harbor, Old Orchard Beach, South Portland, Ellsworth, Wells Beach Station, Kennebunk, Southwest Harbor, York Beach and Scarborough, according to the company.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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