Portland voters will consider two competing questions on short-term rentals on November’s stacked ballot, leading to potential confusion as they weigh separate proposals for clamping down on corporate owners and significantly cutting the number of such rentals.

Question A would stop corporate and non-local owners from registering short-term rentals, stop property owners from evicting residents so they can immediately convert a unit into a short-term rental, and ban such rentals in units classified as affordable. Current short-term rental operators would be protected; their registrations would not be revoked because of these changes and they would be allowed to renew them.

Question B would restrict short-term rentals in Portland to units that are owner-occupied, tenant-occupied or located in a two-unit building where the owner lives in one unit. It also would lower the cap on non-owner occupied units, move the city’s fee structure from a sliding scale to a flat rate of $250 per owner-occupied unit and $750 per non-owner occupied unit, and increase penalties for violations.

Question A was brought forward by short-term rental operators and their supporters, while Question B is one of four ballot questions from the Maine chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America’s Livable Portland campaign. The DSA says its questions are aimed at making the city more affordable and stable for workers, tenants, families and the most vulnerable.

Both proposals could be approved and go into effect, but more analysis would have to be done after the election.

The referendums come as cities around the U.S. have enacted restrictions on short-term rentals in recent years because of worsening housing shortages. In Maine, a new state legislative commission is just beginning to study short-term rentals and their impact on affordable housing, a hot-button issue for many communities.


Chris Korzen inside one of his short-term rentals in Portland. He is one of the authors of Question A, which seeks to prohibit corporate and non-local operators from registering short-term rentals in the city. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer


The two groups oppose each other’s proposals.

Proponents of Question A say it will tighten the city’s existing regulations while maintaining the current cap (400 non-owner occupied mainland units) and ensuring local operators are the ones benefitting (they define a local resident as someone living within a 20-mile radius of the city). They say short-term rentals are an important part of the city’s tourism economy and provide residents with a way to earn extra income so they can afford to live in Portland.

“We still have unfinished business to do in ensuring that reasonable regulations are in place so that short-term rentals don’t get out of control but at the same time recognize the importance of short-term rentals to the local economy,” said Chris Korzen, who operates two short-term rentals and helped write Question A.

He said he wasn’t sure how prevalent corporate or non-local ownership of short-term rentals is, but that organizers of Question A are trying to be proactive. “We often wait until something becomes a problem to address it,” Korzen said. “This is forward looking.”

Korzen said his group is against Question B (the one put forth by DSA) because it ignores the role rentals like his play in the economy and looks in the wrong place for a solution to the city’s housing crisis.


“I’m really concerned that we’re not putting into place actual effective policies to increase the availability of housing,” Korzen said. “This is a diversion from where we should be focusing our energy as a city.”

DSA leaders say they expect Question B, if it passes, will add up to 340 housing units back into the long-term rental market.

“Our goal is to make it so there is a bigger supply of long-term rentals in Portland,” said Wes Pelletier, chair of DSA’s Livable Portland campaign. “Right now short-term rentals are snatching up a lot of homes that were previously occupied by workers and families in Portland and they’re being turned into temporary hotels.”

But what happens if both pass? 

City code states that any number of ordinances may be voted on in the same election, but if two or more are approved with conflicting provisions, the ordinance with more votes takes precedence. The city has not reviewed these proposals for conflicts, said city spokesperson Jessica Grondin. That would only be done if both pass.

Pelletier said he thinks both could be implemented, though a clause in Question A protecting existing operators could limit Question B’s goals and prevent units from being returned to the market.


“I can see if this passes, we will have all these regulations in place, but hundreds of short-term rentals that are on the books in Portland would not have to abide by what the people voted for,” he said.

According to city code, the City Council cannot amend an ordinance approved by referendum vote for five years, though it can propose changes through an additional referendum.


Portland began regulating short-term rentals in January 2018. Developed over a six-month period with input from supporters and opponents alike, the ordinance sought to limit non-owner-occupied short-term rentals at 300. But those units were so loosely defined it was rendered practically meaningless.

An owner-occupied unit is an owner’s primary home – they rent out a room or their full residence if they’re away – but spend most of their time there. Non-owner occupied units are whole-home or whole-apartment rentals; the owner is never there.

The City Council tightened the rules in late 2018 and raised the cap to 400. Short-term rentals on the city’s islands are not capped.


In 2020, the DSA brought forward a referendum initiative that would have eliminated non-owner occupied short-term rentals and raised registration fees paid to the city from $100 for the first unit to $1,000 for each mainland unit, but it failed to pass at the polls.

Pelletier said advocates for short-term rentals argued at the time that some “mom and pop landlords” wanted to be able to rent out an additional unit attached to their homes.

“In response to that, we said, ‘OK. We’ll allow those. That argument makes sense,'” Pelletier said – Question B allows for non-owner occupied short-term rentals to still operate in two-unit buildings where the owner lives in one unit.


Nick D’Amore is co-director of a nonprofit and also works part-time at a wine bar and does freelance gardening work. He and his partner lived in Portland for about three and a half years, renting a two-bedroom in the West End until recently. They found out over the summer their building was being sold and their lease wasn’t going to be renewed. He wasn’t sure what the new owner planned to do with the building.

“We were thrown into the process of looking into housing and competing against newcomers when we already live here,” D’Amore said. “Our ability to stay was kind of pulled out from under us and we were thrown into a market that was pretty volatile.”


After weeks of searching, they ended up in an unwinterized cabin in Otisfield, about an hour away. They found it through a friend of a friend, but it isn’t a permanent place to live.

D’Amore said looking for new housing has been frustrating and that he and his partner are considering moving out of state, perhaps to New York City, where there seems to be more housing at stable prices.

“Renting is not nearly as stable as it could be and I think short-term rentals have a lot to do with that because the owners can do whatever they have to do to make more money off their property,” D’Amore said.

Ozzie Bakar, who rents a one-bedroom apartment on Forest Avenue, has also felt the impacts of the city’s housing crunch. He’s looking to move but is worried about finding something affordable and said he thinks limiting short-term rentals further could alleviate some of the pressure on the long-term market. “I think it would definitely help, especially with inflation and everything going on,” Bakar said.

Ozzie Bakar is a renter who wants to move but says the options are too expensive. He thinks limiting short-term rentals could take some pressure off the market.  Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer


Scott and Perryn Ferris operate one of the city’s 400 registered non-owner occupied units and are among the organizers behind Question A. They’ve been renting out the attic apartment above their house in Parkside on Airbnb for the last six years, and said the extra income has helped them make repairs to their home and pay for college for their oldest child.


They enjoy providing a local experience and giving recommendations to tourists who come stay at their apartment. “Instead of people coming to stay in a hotel, we’re able to host people in our home and send them to our local businesses,” said Perryn Ferris. “It feels like a real win-win to us.”

Scott Ferris said he thinks Question B is “too extreme” and that Question A would make more minor changes to the city’s existing ordinance.

“Right now where we are I think it’s a fairly decent balance in terms of the numbers of units the city has us capped at,” said Ferris. “That’s a small percent of the overall rental market. Theirs seeks to limit that further and I don’t think that’s necessary.”

According to city data, there are 827 short-term rentals registered in the city and 18,811 long-term rentals. The city has also taken enforcement action on 54 unregistered short-term rental properties this year, though officials don’t know exactly how many properties may be operating outside of the rules, Grondin said.

Non-owner-occupied short-term rentals are currently limited to 400 units on the mainland, but Question B would reduce that cap to 250, or one percent of the number of registered long-term rental units, whichever is less. Based on the number of long-term units in the city right now, (18,811) that’s 188.

Island rentals also would be subject to the cap.


Critics of Question B have pointed to the extended restrictions on the islands as problematic. Some residents and property owners on Peaks Island have said Question B ignores the fact that some properties are seasonal and can’t be converted to long-term rentals. They worry the proposal would end a culture of summer rentals that has long been part of their way of life.

Single-family homes and cottages that have operated as non-owner occupied rentals could no longer do so under Question B’s restrictions.

Pelletier, from the DSA, said property owners could still rent their homes for 30 days or more at a time, and that the proposal seeks to increase affordable housing in all parts of Portland, including the islands.

“People who make up the community that’s there year-round will be able to survive and participate and grow that community without housing just sitting there for weekend-long getaways,” he said.

Voters will consider a referendum this November that seeks to restrict short-term rentals in Portland, including those on Peaks Island. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer


Mayor Kate Snyder said she will not support either ballot question.


Snyder said the City Council worked with community stakeholders to develop the current policy regulating short-term rentals and that staff have worked to ensure compliance.

“Importantly, I have no reason to believe that current STRs will be converted to affordable housing rentals if we pull those licenses,” Snyder said in an email. “Maybe some will, but we have no data here.”

Snyder said she is also concerned that Question B is blind to the unique needs of the city’s islands.

“Winterization of a seasonal home is a very costly proposition, and I would not assume families can easily convert from a summer seasonal rental to a year round rental, not to mention the fact that some of our islands have only seasonal access to public water,” Snyder said.

“Consistent with my concerns regarding citizen initiatives overall, I fear the STR questions lack appropriate stakeholder input, and that they will lead to unintended negative consequences.”

The city prepared a fiscal impact statement on all 13 referendum questions voters will decide on this November, including the two short-term rental proposals, and estimated the total cost at more than $6.5 million. Grondin, the city’s spokesperson, said staff have not conducted any additional analysis of the short-term rental proposals and don’t plan to do so.


According to the fiscal note, both Questions A and B would require a “significant increase in administrative tasks related to oversight of short-term rentals including notifications, enforcement and record-keeping.” The note estimated Question A would cost $150,000, including two new staff members and $25,000 for one-time renovations to accommodate them at City Hall.

The city estimated Question B would cost $127,500 in lost registration fees, though members of DSA have questioned that estimate and said that the change in fee structure and increased fines would actually increase revenues.

According to DSA’s calculations – which are based on a slightly different number of registered short-term rentals from July – the city would see an increase of $26,150 from the new fee scale, even with the stricter cap in place. Their calculations assumed 170 non-owner occupied units would register if the question passes and about 360 short-term rentals would be lost in all.

The city’s calculations are based on an estimated loss of 510 short-term rentals, including 110 island rentals and all 400 non-owner occupied rentals. The city used a $250 registration fee in its estimates, as a rough average of the current registration fees, which are on a sliding scale based on the number of units an owner has. They didn’t factor in any potential revenue increases from a higher registration fee for owner-occupied units.

Grondin said the city’s calculation is an estimate, and it’s hard to know for sure what the impact of Question B would be. “There are many different caveats depending on all the various restrictions,” she said.

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