SOUTH PORTLAND — Two weeks after the Aug. 7 deadline for compliance with the city’s short-term rental regulations, officials said they aren’t sure how many property owners are still in violation.

South Portland voters last November enacted rules limiting the proliferation of short-term vacation rentals. The City Council now must decide what to do about property owners who violate the rules. Portland Press Herald

City Clerk Emily Scully said she planned to meet with Corporate Counsel Sally Daggett Thursday to discuss the situation. Daggett, who is compiling the data, had been on vacation for two weeks, Scully said.

City Manager Scott Morelli said the City Council is expected to meet privately with Daggett on Tuesday, Aug. 27 to discuss the city’s next steps.

He said councilors will go over what responses have been received, note how many violations are still outstanding and discuss what legal action can be taken against who are not in compliance.

Violations could cost property owners $1,000 a day for a first offense and a fine of $1,500 per day for each additional offense.

Scully said some properties in violation may have applied to register, but were denied and have continued to rent despite the ordinance. Other violators, she said, have failed to meet building and fire safety code requirements.

She said two rounds of warning letters were sent in mid-July to owners of 62 properties that were advertised as short-term rentals without being registered with the city. As of July 29, the most recent date figures were available, 17 properties were in violation of the ordinance. Forty-five rentals had been registered and licensed since Jan. 1.

The errant property owners had until Aug. 7 to comply with the rules. Scully said owners in violation were asked to either cease operations or register their properties by the deadline.

“Any sort of enforcement action needs to go before City Council to be decided, and our attorney will recommend the next course of action,” Morelli said. “We may go forward with court action and fines, but if a consent decree can be reached, that would be preferable.”

Assistant City Manager Josh Reny said a consent decree would be ideal because if the owners are willing to acknowledge their wrongdoing and work with the city to find a solution, they can avoid the court process.

“The problem is, there are varying degrees of violation,” Reny said. “Some people may have made an application to be registered, but while it’s pending they’re listing the property. Others may not have attempted to register at all.”

Reny said some opponents of the regulations believed their property rights were being infringed upon, but he believes the new rules have been effective.

He said the number of registrations has steadily increased, with current and pending registrations exceeding the number of outstanding violations.

The regulations, first discussed in February 2018, ban unhosted rentals of less than 30 days in residential zones. Critics have said these temporary home stays, promoted on websites such as Airbnb and HomeAway, helped to drive up homes prices in the city’s eastern neighborhood and put pressure on long-term rental prices.

Last year, according to Airbnb, the average South Portland host made $8,000 from renting their home for an average of 36 nights a year.

Voters approved the ordinance changes in a referendum last November.

The city allows hosted short-term rentals of  two adult guests per bedroom, with a maximum of six guests per house. 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.

Registrations for hosted and non-hosted home stays are valid for one year, and must be renewed on an annual basis. Advertisements for allowable short-term rentals must include city-issued registration numbers.

Director of Code Enforcement Barb Skelton said annual licenses cost $200 for hosted rentals and $400 for unhosted rentals, in addition to a $100 fire safety inspection fee and a $20 processing fee.

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