The view from Mackerel Cove on Harpswell’s Bailey’s Island. The town Select Board voted last month to establish a Short-Term Rentals Policy Task Force to combat the strain rental properties have placed on the small coastal community’s resources and overall character. Derek Davis / Portland Press Herald file photo

Tim Clark, a code enforcement officer for the town of Harpswell, is concerned about the safety of properties being used for short-term rentals.

“The main issue that we come across is septic,” Clark said. “People say, ‘Oh, but there’s only two or four of us staying here this week,’ but they have a big party and now 20 people show up.”

Harpswell sits on a groundwater aquifer that is replenished by rainwater. That means that there is no public water, and residences with large numbers of guests can overtax septic systems and wells.

Short-term rentals can also present challenges for code enforcement, such as not having the required number of exits, as well as public works, which can see a significant uptick in trash accumulation during tourist seasons, Clark added.

According to, about 460 of the roughly 4,200 residences in Harpswell are listed as short-term rentals. AirDNA, which only includes listings on Airbnb and Vrbo, estimates that there are 209. There was a 33% increase in listings on Airbnb and Vrbo between 2020 and 2022.

To combat an uptick in code violations and a perceived strain on the community from short-term visitors, the Harpswell Select Board voted in October to establish a Short-Term Rental Task Force. On Tuesday, Nov. 28, the group met for the second time to establish goals and invite public comment.


“My definition is ‘safety, safety, safety,’ ” said Bob Gandreau, a resident of Great Island and member of both the Affordable Housing Committee and the Short-Term Rentals Task Force. “The rules and regulations will congeal around the rest of it.”

Those rules and regulations, which may apply to short-term rentals only or to Harpswell residences at large, will be developed by the task force this winter with the hope of putting an ordinance in place this spring. The task force is made up of nine community members from a variety of backgrounds, including owners and managers of short-term rental properties, and is headed by Select Board member Jane Covey.

Foremost among the goals discussed by the task force on Tuesday were providing “attainable” (as opposed to affordable) rent and long-term rental availability for summer-oriented essential workers such as lobster boat sternmen, landscapers and waiters.

Most short-term rentals in Harpswell are located within a designation called the “shoreline zone,” which extends 200 horizontal feet from the low-tide mark. Homes in this zone tend to be the most expensive.

The Short-Term Rentals Task Force will hold its next meeting at 5 p.m. Monday, Dec. 4.

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