SOUTH PORTLAND — The city will begin sending out registration notices March 1 to property owners who have advertised short-term housing rentals.

This is the first step of enforcement South Portland will take since enacting regulations following a referendum vote last November. The referendum effectively curtailed proliferation of online vacation rentals through services like Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway.

According to Airbnb last year, the typical South Portland host made $8,000 from renting their home for an average of 36 nights a year, or three days a month.

The ordinance amendments that ban unhosted short-term rentals in strictly residential neighborhoods took effect Jan. 1. Advertisements for allowable short-term rentals must include city-issued registration numbers.

Registrations for both hosted and non-hosted home stays are valid for one year from the date of issuance, unless the registration is suspended or revoked. Registrations must be renewed on an annual basis.

According to city officials, 20 applications have so far been submitted, including 16 for hosted stays and four for non-hosted stays. Four hosted properties have been registered and five applications have been denied. Eleven applications are pending inspection or follow-up after inspections identified safety issues that require correction.

Non-hosted home stays are permitted in non-residential zones for periods of at least seven consecutive days but fewer than 30 consecutive days; guests may stay for less than the minimum, provided that the rental unit remains vacant until the end of the minimum stay period.

Applications submitted so far account for only a portion of short-term rentals identifed in the city by third-party service provider Host Compliance. Officials say there are more than 150 unique properties in South Portland with active listings; around 75 percent are in single-family homes and the remainder are in multi-family buildings.

Approximately 19 percent of the listings indicate a “partial home” rental, which implies that the owner would be sharing part of the dwelling. Many of those rentals, as well as other “entire home” rentals, where the owner resides in the same building, are assumed to be eligible to register with the city as hosted rentals, Assistant City Manager Joshua Reny said.

The package the city selected when creating a contract with Host Compliance includes automated property identification, unit registration, a complaint hotline and mailing services.

Starting next week, Reny said, rental owners who haven’t applied to register with the city will be sent compliance notices.

“The notices (will essentially say) ‘Hey we’ve noticed your listing, you haven’t registered with the city yet. You need to do so,'” Town Manager Scott Morelli said. “The letters will get progressively less nice after that.”

Reny said city officials have to proceed on the assumption there might be some people who just haven’t heard about the ordinance amendments. 

“There’s been a lot of publicity (and) we suspect that most of the folks who are doing this type of thing are aware it’s going on,” he added. “(But) we’re going to start by giving everybody the benefit of the doubt.”

Once the initial notice goes out, Reny said, owners of properties that are not eligible for registration will be required to cease advertising and operating. 

Code Enforcement Officer Matt LeConte will be responsible for logging complaints. Individual cases of non-compliance could be brought before the City Council for a public hearing on whether to suspend or revoke the registration, Reny said. 

Violators could be fined $1,000 per day for the first offense and an additional $1,500 per day for each additional offense of operating a hosted or non-hosted homestay without a valid registration. Cases would be pursued through Maine District or Superior Court in Portland, according under the ordinance. 

Before March 1, property owners seeking ot register were asked to print a copy of the application packet from the city’s website and submit to the city clerk’s office. Town Clerk Emily Scully said online registration was expected to be up and running March 1, with mailed notices steering owners to register online.

As for how many notices will be allowed before enforcement measures are employed, Reny said the city will “see how things go” after initial notices are distributed.

“We’ll start by giving a … grace period after the first notice. For people we don’t hear from, we’ll follow up with another letter (explaining enforcement),” he said. “We want to reserve all options with how this escalates.”