A new requirement that all Falmouth short-term renters register their properties, with hefty fines for those who don’t comply, is drawing mixed reactions from owners and residents.

The ordinance, approved by the Town Council July 26, stems from residents’ concerns about noise and congestion coming from vacation rentals like those advertised on sites such as Airbnb, according to Town Councilor Hope Cahan.

“The council started hearing from some community members about how individual properties were carrying on with their Airbnb rentals,” Cahan said. “The people staying there maybe had parties late at night, (were) letting dogs wander, leaving garbage in inappropriate places, taking a ton of parking.”

The ordinance requires the owners of short-term rental properties, ranging from single-family and owner-occupied homes to motels and bed and breakfasts, to register their rentals, have insurance and provide an emergency contact that can respond to complaints within an hour. Registration will cost $300 per property annually and takes effect Jan. 1.

Other Maine towns that require similar registration include Cape Elizabeth, Portland, South Portland, Old Orchard Beach and Saco.

While the town doesn’t have data on how many short-term vacation rentals exist in Falmouth or where they are located,  Administration Analyst Maggie Fleming said they appear mostly to be centered in and around the Foreside.

Resident Jennifer Mrowka said the rentals are easy to spot.

“The signs are everywhere – the rotating series of out-of-state license plates in driveways, dark empty homes on Halloween night, and the remnants of late-night revelries left on patio tables overnight,” Mrowka said told The Forecaster.

Under the new policy, the emergency contact would be called to deal with the conduct of guests as well as safety concerns.

Rental owners who spoke with The Forecaster said smaller, owner-occupied operations should be exempt from the ordinance and some took issue with the fines for noncompliance. The council will review the ordinance after it has been in effect for one year.

David Gooch said he has been renting his house on Johnson Road to vacationers for five years so he doesn’t have to sell and “move away to a lower tax expense neighborhood.”

He said he understands the need for some of the rules, but, among other issues, he said, the fines are too high.

“One thing I was pushing for was an owners’ meeting where we can set a code of conduct,” Gooch said in a phone interview. “I  don’t agree with the cataloging. It’s no one’s business what I do on my property.”

The policy calls for a $1,000 fine for an owner renting without first registering their property, with that fine bumping up to $1,500 each following day the site operates without registering.

Other ordinance infractions, like not having a certificate of insurance or emergency contact available, will cost $500 each day the violation goes uncorrected.

Gooch said he feels his source of income is being punished based on bad apples.

“Short-term rentals have been a part of Maine forever. Fishers would rent out cabins to locals. That’s how my parents met,” Gooch said. “People are afraid of change is all. We send our visitors to local restaurants and things, make sure they know about those. We help the community. We do more good than anything.”

Registration will be enforced by third-party company Host Compliance at an annual cost of  $16,000 to the town. Portland and South Portland also use Host Compliance, which scours different rental websites and checks with registration records to find owners who are violating the ordinance.

Jack Davis, who has rented parts of his home out for seven years, supports the new ordinance.  As a volunteer firefighter and EMS in town, he said he understands the concerns from neighbors of short-term rentals.

“I know circumstances are hard. On smaller streets, if you’ve suddenly got six cars involved in a rental because you’ve got a bachelor party, I can see how those streets could get clogged,” Davis told The Forecaster.

In addition, Mrowka said, the sense of community is “eroded if there is a different family from New York or wherever living down the street each week.”

She’d like to see a policy that limits rentals of less than 14 days to one- or two-family homes that are occupied by a tenant or owner.

“We’ve got to nip this in the bud before more investors buy places to use as rentals,” she said.

Both Davis and Gooch, who live in the homes they rent out, said that the real issue is with owners who don’t live at or near their property. They’d also like the town to leave owner-occupied rentals alone, or at least go easier on them.

“We are here 99 percent of the time the guests are here, and we’ve had no problems whatsoever with anything going on. Candidly, I don’t know if our neighbors even know we do this,” Davis said.

Cahan said “the council believed that they did not have enough information about the impacts of owner-occupied units vs. non-owner occupied units” to determine if there was a need for differing regulations, but that will be part of the council’s one-year review.

“We anticipate any differentials between the two to be part of the discussion,” Cahan said.

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