A bill that would prevent towns and cities from banning short-term rentals like those advertised on Airbnb came under a barrage of criticism at the State House Wednesday.

Rep. Scott Strom

Under the legislation, municipalities could not prohibit or restrict the use of a short-term rental except for narrowly tailored regulations to protect public health and safety.

Rep. Scott Strom, R-Pittsfield, sponsor of L.D. 209, said he normally supports Maine’s tradition of empowered local government, but in this case thinks some policies on short-term rentals go too far.

“I’m starting to see municipalities flat out ban them citywide, not regulate them per se,” Strom said.

“I think I am standing up for personal property owners. People have made these purchases for a reason.”

As renting private homes and apartments online grows more popular, towns and cities in Maine and elsewhere have regulated them to protect long-term rental housing and neighborhood identity.

Last year, South Portland prevented owners from renting property short-term in residential areas if it isn’t their primary residence, in some of the toughest regulations in the state.

More than a dozen South Portland residents attended the public hearing Wednesday, urging lawmakers to vote against the bill. Trade associations such as Hospitality Maine and Vacation Rental Professionals of Maine also spoke against the proposal.

Only Strom and the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a right-leaning think tank that proposed the bill, spoke in favor of it.

Heritage Center communications director Jacob Posik said in an interview that the proposal is modeled on an Arizona law. It is only intended to prevent bans on short-term rentals – it would not prevent municipalities from making short-term rental operators register, pay fees or get health and safety inspections, Posik said.

“We’re not trying to carve out a special status for short-term rentals; we just don’t want them to be prohibited,” he said.

“What we want to do is protect property owners’ rights,” he added. “Municipalities should not be free to outright ban a legal activity.”

Committee members did not vote on the bill and a work session has not been scheduled.

Most who spoke against the bill said towns and cities need flexibility to craft their own local laws.

“It is a tremendous overreach of home rule,” said Peter Stanton, who organized support for regulations on short-term rentals in South Portland.

The bill would strip communities of the ability to protect themselves from corporate interests, Stanton said in an interview. The South Portland rules were mainly put in place to preserve local housing and protect neighborhoods from being overwhelmed by transient guests, he added.

“We are also concerned simply that what was a city of great neighborhoods (is) being just chewed up by tourist industry that sees them as a profit center,” Stanton said. “They don’t care about our communities at all.”

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

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