Cape Elizabeth Town Council has tightened its rules on short term rentals, preventing absentee landlords from running rental businesses in residential neighborhoods.

The council passed the amendments April 12.

They affect anyone renting property to tenants for periods shorter than 30 days.

Renters must now consider the property they are renting to be their primary residence. The move effectively puts an end to out-of-town or out-of-state property owners renting their local properties for short term.

“That’s probably the biggest paradigm shift to the ordinance,” said Town Manager Matt Sturgis.

Council Chairperson James Garvin said the provision forces property owners to live in the neighborhoods where they are renting to others.

“That primary resident has to, at some point, face their neighbors,” Garvin said. “They’ve got skin in the game.”

Another new provision calls for short-term renters to get a permit from the town first. The town has officially allowed short-term rentals since 2012, but there has never been a rule before now requiring permits. That, according to Town Planner Maureen O’Meara, will aid regulators.

“That will help us keep track of what’s going on, and it will help us with enforcement,” she said.

Just maintaining an accurate count of how many short-term rental properties there are in town has been a challenge. Until now, O’Meara said, officials have relied upon word of mouth or scanning Internet-based rental websites such as Airbnb and Vrbo. As of September 2019, she said, officials believed the town had between 120 and 160 properties that renters occupied for fewer than 30 days.

“That fluctuated based on what time of year you’re looking,” she said.

Garvin said the permit provision now puts a process in place that allows for officials, and even the council, to better control who is allowed to rent out residential property in town. The code enforcement department, he said, will now approve renewals of short-term rental permits, and if there is a track record of, say, police officers visiting the property to address neighborhood complaints, permits could get revoked.

For renters using websites such as Airbnb or Vrbo, Garvin said, that would mean canceling bookings, leading to bad ratings for the renters which will make it harder for them to keep using those websites. This provides even further incentive to renters to make sure their tenants behave.

“Taking away their ability to operate would be the most detrimental to that operator,” he said.

Garvin said that the town remains open to potentially making further changes to the ordinance down the road if needed.

Comments are not available on this story.