Kennebunk and Kennebunkport select boards are both mulling the eventual establishment of regulatory measures on short term rentals. Tammy Wells Photo

Should short-stay rentals that are not hotels, motels or bed and breakfasts be considered  businesses?

Is there a difference between homes bought only for short-term rentals, and owners who primarily use the properties themselves, but rent it for a few weeks or a month annually as a way to help pay the property taxes?

Should towns be keeping track of short-term rentals – and should the code enforcement officer conduct an inspection to see if they are up to code? How often?

Kennebunkport and Kennebunk municipal officials are eyeing regulatory options for short-term rentals. Select board members in both communities know there are many short-term rentals in their towns. But they don’t know how many – and they don’t know if the homes have smoke detectors, meet codes, or much else about them.

Select board members in Kennebunk and Kennebunkport say they’re trying to maintain a sense of community in their residential neighborhoods as they contemplate regulations on short term rentals. Tammy Wells Photo

Kennebunkport selectmen reviewed a licensing ordinance draft Oct. 8. Kennebunk Select Board members held a workshop, discussing various options with attorney Sally Daggett in late September.

Kennebunkport selectman Ed Hutchins noted he is in the process of getting a permit for a chicken coop. At the moment however, there are no local ordinances regarding short-term rentals, like those featured on Airbnb and by other means.

“Right now, in 2020, anyone can rent their house, any way they want,” he said.

Kennebunkport selectmen discussed practicalities like whether there should be a cap on the number of permits, whether licenses or permits should be transferrable, if there should be a minimum stay, how often the premises should be inspected, and more.

Both communities have a long history of short-term rentals, but as online rental companies have proliferated, town officials in Kennebunk say they’ve been told some homes are being purchased for  that purpose alone.

“Out -of- towners are buying for speculative investment,” with the intent only to rent short term, said Kennebunk Select Board Chair Blake Baldwin. He said in his view, they’re a business, in competition with hotels and bed and breakfasts that are subject to regulation.

“My point of view is (there are) businesses being started in midst of our neighborhoods and at the least should pay personal property tax,” said Baldwin. ” That’s what I’m interested in looking at. To me we are losing a lot of the neighborhood flavor to extent the people come in, and have no other connection to town.”

Kennebunkport is looking at a short-term rental ordinance, “designed to balance the desire of property owners to rent their properties to short-term tenants with the desire of residents to preserve the peace and quiet enjoyment of their residential neighborhoods, ” according to a draft.

Under Kennebunkport’s tentative plan, short term rentals would be licensed by the code enforcement officer, following an inspection and compliance with building code requirements – but no firm decisions on the language of an ordinance has been developed.

Selectmen’s board chair Alan Daggett said there would be more meetings and more ordinance drafts and that public comment is welcome.

Hutchins noted that Kennebunkport residents wouldn’t be voting on an ordinance until June, and it will be sometime in the spring before a final draft is ready.

In Kennebunk, attorney Sally Daggett urged select board members to get a handle on how many short-term rentals there are, how many individual listings there are, the town’s policy objectives, enforcement goals, whether there should be an ordinance or a licensing mechanism like some other communities use, and more.

Select board member William Ward pointed out that some people who own homes in Kennebunk have been conducting short-term rentals for decades – though he too said has heard of two beach-area properties that sold recently, apparently to be used only for the short-term rental market.

In response to a question, attorney Daggett said municipalities may charge a licensing fee, but state statute says the fee must relate to the amount it costs the town to administer and enforce the program.

Kennebunk Select Board members are expected to host other workshops on the proposal.

And while there are currently no numbers available on short term rentals, in Kennebunkport, selectman Michael Weston pointed out that a 2019 market analysis report shows 40 percent of Kennebunkport’s housing is seasonal and 52 percent of the population is part-time or seasonal.

Hutchins, who said he owned a short-term rental property for a few years, said people in town wonder why the selectmen’s board is contemplating an ordinance.

“Why I think we should is (because) we want to maintain a community in this town,” he said “I don’t want to wake up sometime and find out we’re the only people living here in the middle of winter or not know who my neighbors are.”

He said having an ordinance would help public safety.

“We know who the owners are now, but we don’t know if they’re here or if they rented,” Hutchins continued. “This will help public safety and the community we still have here, and will help the short-term rentals.”

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