Short-term rentals in Scarborough’s coastal neighborhoods was the topic during a Nov. 2 Council Corner LIVE. Residents told Councilors April Sither and Nick McGee they were worried about surging real estate prices and potential safety hazards with such rentals.

Council Corner LIVE is a virtual and in-person Town Hall that take place about every three months.  “This is our opportunity as a council to hear from the community. We do not have an agenda,” Sither said.

Regarding short-term rentals, McGee said, LD 2003 “codified municipal authority to adopt regulations around short-term rentals ‘in order to achieve the statewide or regional housing production goal.’ The ordinance committee is in the process of understanding what other communities are doing, what is effective, what if anything should be done and how big is the issue locally.”

A diverse audience attended the meeting, including business owners, residents, property owners, and realtors where councilors sought public input on key questions related to short-term rentals. McGee raised the issue of the challenge of defining short-term rentals, citing examples like tents, campers, and half-sheds on Airbnb sites. “How do you define a short-term rental? What is a period of time that would qualify, what type of building structure? Does it matter which part of town?” he asked, urging the community to share their insights.

Public comments during the meeting reflected a spectrum of concerns and viewpoints.

Susan Thompson, a Higgins Beach resident, voiced frustration of short-term rentals being taxed the same as a hotel for her summer weekly rentals. “Ten years ago, the state of Maine decided to bill us like we are a Holiday Inn, 9.5% charge. Which I think is unfair. Is Scarborough going to tack on a fee like the state?” Thompson asked. She also addressed the duration of short-term rentals, saying it is usually a week long stay, noting the cleaning challenges between short stays.

The issue of fees stirred a discussion among attendees. Sither asked, “are people here concerned about fees?” Someone yelled out, “No more fees.” Others suggested the city should issue permits and conduct inspections to ensure habitability and safety. A consensus emerged regarding the need for at least an initial inspection on short-term rentals, with some proposing the use of existing inspections by the fire department or insurance companies as proof of compliance with safety measures.

As the meeting concluded, Sither and McGee expressed gratitude to participants for their input. Sither reiterated that the session was part of an ongoing information-gathering process, emphasizing that the council was not on a fast track to implement new rules. The discussion, marked by diverse perspectives and concerns, provided a snapshot of the complex issues surrounding short-term rentals in Scarborough.

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