A bill sponsored by a South Portland Democrat that would allow Maine municipalities to assess fees on vacant second homes was rejected by the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

Seventeen House Democrats, including Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, joined all Republican House members to vote 53-76 against the bill, which had received a favorable, albeit party-line, vote in committee.

The measure still faces debate in the Senate, but the strength of opposition in the House appears insurmountable.

The bill would have allowed municipalities to assess fees on housing units designed for year-round use but not occupied by a permanent resident for at least half of the year. Under the proposal, such a fee would be enacted through a municipal ordinance and could only be used to support affordable housing in the community.

No municipality would be required to adopt it – a provision that prompted the Maine Municipal Association to support the bill.

Proponents argued the bill would give municipalities, especially those in tourist communities such as Portland and South Portland, another tool to discourage property owners from turning long-term housing into short-term rentals and to generate revenue to address the affordable housing shortage.


Rep. Christopher Kessler, D-South Portland, sponsored the bill, which received support from city councils in South Portland and Portland, communities that are facing an acute shortage of affordable housing and a growing short-term rental industry. Kessler stressed that the bill would not be a mandate, but would clarify existing laws for municipalities interested in adopting the fee.

“This bill provides that clarity but it also provides the guardrails about how that money could be used,” he said.

Kessler, who changed his original bill after hearing concerns from opponents in his own party, said data from MaineHousing shows that a majority of Maine residents cannot afford the cost of a median-priced home or apartment. He noted that Maine has the highest percentage of second homes in the country.

“When we think about the common welfare, we need to be thinking about all Mainers, not just those who have the fortune to have additional property amidst a housing crisis,” Kessler said. “We need every tool to address the affordable housing crisis.”

Opponents, however, argued that the bill would infringe on private property rights and end up affecting family camps or seasonal vacation homes owned by Mainers. They repeatedly referred to the proposal as a tax.

Republicans offered the harshest criticism, calling the proposal “ludicrous,” “socialism” and a “socialist idea.”


Rep. Bruce Bickford, R-Auburn, said that watching the discussion about the bill in committee was “Socialism 101.”

“This is incredible,” Bickford said. “I can’t believe we’re even discussing this.”

Rep. Jeffrey Hanley, R-Pittston, said enacting the bill would lead to a slippery slope. The self-described “greedy capitalist” said he owns two vehicles, but only needs one. He wondered whether future bills would impose fees on his extra vehicle, with the funding going to finance cars for people who can’t afford them.

Proponents, however, stressed that the bill was designed to protect family camps because the fee could only be charged for places that are designed for year-round habitation, and most family camps are not. They also stressed that it would not require municipalities to enact the fees.

Several Democrats said they would support the bill even though they would argue against enacting those fees in their own communities. Among them was Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, who suggested he supported the bill because it was consistent with local control.

“This is clearly a solution for other communities other than mine,” Berry said. “The question before us fundamentally, Mr. Speaker, is whether we trust our communities to self-govern. And I do trust the three communities I represent to make the right decisions.”

But after nearly an hourlong debate, the House voted against the proposal.

Kessler said in an email he was disappointed with the vote.

“I am disappointed that some of my colleagues decided to stand in the way of cities like Portland and South Portland who recognize that we need every tool in the toolbox to address our housing crisis, even though it would not have impacted their own towns,” he said. “The fact that nearly 1 out of 5 residences in Maine are vacant (the highest rate in the nation) is not inconsequential when it comes to the impact on housing supply in our communities.

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