SOUTH PORTLAND ⁠— Three weeks after the Aug. 7 deadline for meeting the city’s short-term rental regulations, officials said they won’t take legal action against non-compliant property owners.

City councilors also unanimously sent two borrowing proposals for the construction of a new middle school to the polls on Nov. 5.

City Clerk Emily Scully said people in violation of the short-term rental ordinance have been in close contact with city officials and are willing to comply, so no consent decree or legal action is necessary at this time.

During an executive session Aug. 27, councilors conferred with Corporation Counsel Sally Daggett about how many violations were still outstanding and what legal action that could be taken against those not in compliance.

After coming out of executive session, the council agreed to take no action, but did not formally vote on the matter.

According to most recent data provided by the city on Aug. 29, there are 95 short-term rentals operating in the city, with 32 of those properties still in violation of the ordinance. Scully said 10 of those are pending applications. Forty-five rentals had been registered and licensed since Jan. 1.

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.

“We’re finding that someone may be managing the listing for a property owner, and it’s old and they haven’t taken it down,” she said. “Some are in pending application status, so while they’re technically in violation they are still working to come into compliance.”

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.

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.

Had the city chosen to implement any legal action, property owners could have faced $1,000 a day for a first offense and a fine of $1,500 per day for each additional offense.

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.

Scully 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.

The proposed middle school project, which received unanimous approval after a second reading, will now head to the Nov. 5 referendum.

The cost of the new middle school, including traffic improvements, is $71.5 million, which includes $59.2 million in state funding. It was approved unanimously at a first reading Aug. 13.

One bond package for $69.3 million would build the school – although only $10 million would be raised locally – while the second seeks another $2.3 million in local funding for related transportation and pedestrian improvements.

The $2.3 million would be earmarked for three projects: $1.4 million for a Westbrook Street multi-use path from Westcott Street to Redbank; $625,000 for Broadway corridor pedestrian improvements, and $200,000 for traffic signals.

The decision to split the project into two proposals was made during a workshop July 23 after several councilors said separating them could help reduce the likelihood that voters would reject the entire project.

City Finance Director Greg L’Heureaux said the bond debt service is estimated at $14.3 million, to be paid over 20 years, and could add at least 6 cents to the property tax rate.

The new building would replace the city’s two middle schools, Mahoney and Memorial, and be built on the site of Memorial Middle School on Wescott Road. The schools have health and safety issues, asbestos problems, inadequate ventilation and electrical problems.

Residents first approved the location of the school by a 151-49 vote a year ago and approved the concept design for the middle school in a 95-2 straw poll vote June 2. On July 10, the State Board of Education unanimously approved the concept.

If the bonding is approved Nov. 5, the timeline approved by the state says the final design documents will be completed by April 2020 and the project will go out to bid in December 2020.

Final funding will require approval from the commissioner of the Department of Education in the fall of 2021. Project completion is projected for September 2023.


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