CAPE ELIZABETH — Cape Elizabeth could temporarily stop issuing permits this summer for new short-term rentals while the town considers changes to its ordinance.

A proposed 180-day moratorium will go before the Town Council on Monday, March 9. The moratorium could be lifted sooner if the council adopts new rules, or it is extended.

Travel websites like Airbnb and Vrbo have made it easier for property owners to rent out private homes or rooms in residential areas for short vacation stays. Following the lead of other communities – including Falmouth and Freeport – and an upswing in these sorts of rentals, Cape Elizabeth began reviewing the town’s short-term rental ordinance in October.

According to an Aug, 27 memo from Town Planner Maureen O’Meara, there were 33 short-term rental permit holders in 2019, down from 38 in 2018 and 77 in 2019. Although the number of permits on file have decreased, O’Meara said in the memo she thought it did not reflect a decrease of STRs, but a failure to renew permits.

A quick online scan by software company Host Compliance found 161 unique places where short-term rentals may be operating in Cape Elizabeth, said O’Meara. The cost for the company to identify those not in compliance, send compliance letters, and pursue permits could cost between $12,000 and $15,000 annually, and the town may increase permit fees to help cover costs if it decides to add this service, according to O’Meara.

The proposed moratorium would begin June 1, but those who now have short-term rentals would be allowed to renew their permits.

Under the current ordinance, Cape Elizabeth property owners are required to get a $50 annual permit from the code enforcement officer to rent out a residential property for fewer than 30 days. Property owners who hold a short-term rental permit may only enter one rental agreement per seven days.

A permit is not needed for those who rent out their homes for two weeks or fewer a year. Under the current ordinance, renting out a bedroom of a primary residence does not require a permit, as it is considered a homestay.

The committee is considering a limit on the number of days an STR can be rented out in a year and broadening the definition to include a bedroom in a primary residence. It is also considering creating categories that would differentiate between a landlord who resides onsite from one who does not.

Part-time resident Melissa Burke, who rents out her local property short-term, said the vast majority of complaints were from two or three rental units, and she wanted the town to consider this when making blanket rules that would impact all those who have short-term rentals.

Resident John Voltz, who does not own a short-term rental, said he thought the town should take time to quantify what the impacts of the rentals are to the town. He said he thought the town might be “putting the cart before the horse” and considering limits before gathering data.

“I would encourage you to put some moratorium on new things in place, pushing forward very hard to get everybody who’s doing this registered,” Voltz said. “Once the town has this information, it can determine what and how big the problems are regarding neighborhood impact and if they are problems with the rental system or with particular people.”

Any changes suggested by the subcommittee will need Town Council approval. Councilor Penny Jordan said at a subcommittee meeting Wednesday that she anticipates the town will have new rules in place by fall.

“My goal is to have it all solved by November,” she said.

The committee had also considered implementing a moratorium on all short-term rentals beginning Jan. 1, 2021, but decided against it, as many landlords book their rentals far in advance.

“Let things go status quo, because ideally, we’re going to have these things solved,” Jordan said.

Those who have short-term rental permits will be able to book into the future, but may have to alter arrangements for 2021, should new rules be put in place next year.

“Those operators and hosts are at their own peril,” Gavin said.

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