CAPE ELIZABETH — The Cape Elizabeth Planning Board is recommending a proposal to tighten restrictions on short-term rentals in town, but not before getting an earful from property owners who say they are being punished because of the actions of “bad eggs.”

The town is considering the restrictions in part due to complaints from residents about absentee property owners not taking responsibility for disruptive behavior of their seasonal tenants, but some property owners who spoke up at the board’s Nov. 17 meeting claimed irresponsible owners are a minority.

Jill Sheaman said she lives full time in Massachusetts, but owns a home in town that she’s renting out to fund her eventual retirement. After she stops working, Sheaman said she intends to live at her Cape Elizabeth home permanently. She said none of her tenants have ever caused problems, and she has always followed the town’s rules for short-term rentals.

But the new restrictions may force her to give up the property altogether.

“I did everything I was supposed to, to do this properly,” she said. “I would hate to have to reconsider having this as my retirement home because of some bad eggs,” she said.

The new rules amount to tightening up regulations and eliminating loopholes, Town Planner Maureen O’Meara said this week. For example, she said, the rules as written now allow people to rent homes for less than 30 days with no permit, similar to people rent out a single room, such as a bedroom, in a home. The amended rules, she said, would eliminate many of the exemptions, which she said is necessary.

“Our ordinance needs to be more streamlined,” she said.

O’Meara pointed to dozens of people who are offering short-term rentals in town without permits. In August 2019, she said, when officials began first examining the rules for short-term rentals, there were 35 property owners holding permits. This week, she said, that same number was only “in the 50s,” but searches online have revealed as many as 160 people offering short-term rentals through online services such as Airbnb, which O’Meara said is a clear indicator of the problem.

“The message is: There’s a lot more out there than actually have permits,” she said.

Other new restrictions include prohibiting owners from being absent no more than 42 days per year, something resident Kristie Green said would be a hardship. She said she rents out her home on Mitchell Road during the summer, and the restriction makes it harder to rent her property out for the season.

“I do feel like the 42-day restriction, it would be cumbersome for us,” she said.

Craig Cooper, who said he is a property manager for landlords in Cape Elizabeth, also said problem property owners are in the minority, and the proposed new rules are “casting much too wide a net to catch and control the few problem areas in Cape Elizabeth.”

Not everyone criticized the proposed changes. Resident Michael Howard noted that some property owners do not even live in some rental properties, which are so large and accommodate so many tenants that Howard called them “essentially a hotel” and wanted to tighten restrictions even further to prevent such large-scale, short-term renting.

“I do not believe that this (ordinance) goes far enough,” he said.

During the board’s discussion, member Peter Curry said he wanted to see the ordinance simplified, so city officials would “not get ourselves tied up in knots.”

The board voted unanimously to recommend the proposed changes to the town council, which will vote on the proposal at a later date.

According to the Portland Press Herald, other area communities have been wrestling with this same problem for years, including Portland, which presented a measure to ban non-owner-occupied or unhosted short-term rentals on the Nov. 3 ballot that failed by 222 votes, and South Portland, which passed short-term rental regulations in 2018 that banned unhosted stays in residential zones.

Sean Murphy 780-9094

Email: [email protected]

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