The town of Kennebunk held a well attended meeting to discuss a proposed short-term rental ordinance on Wednesday, Dec. 6. Eloise Goldsmith photo

KENNEBUNK — A large gathering of proponents and opponents were in attendance at an informational meeting to discuss a new short-term rental regulation in Kennebunk. During the Dec. 6 meeting, the crowd listened to a town proposal.

The proposed regulation has three core components: those with a short-term rental must register with the town clerk, submit to a fire department inspection, and adhere to a “Good Neighbor” policy and procedure guide.

The proposal aligns with a pattern of greater scrutiny around short-term rentals, which some have blamed for exacerbating Maine’s housing crisis.

Proposal feedback was mixed, with many in support while others expressed strong reservations — a sign of how short-term rentals have become both a common fixture in Maine’s coastal communities and a source of concern.

In an interview after the meeting, Director of Community Development Christopher Osterrieder, who led the information session alongside Kennebunk Select Board Chair Shiloh Schulte, the town clerk, the fire chief and a lieutenant from the police department, said that he was glad for the feedback, but anticipates the proposal will stay largely the same.

To be enacted, the select board would have to decide to send it to voters for approval, likely in June 2024.


Town officials say their spearheading the proposal because they want to get an accurate count of how many short-term rentals there are in Kennebunk — which they define as a space rented for fewer than 15 days — and enforce fire department safety standards. As of Dec. 11, AirDNA, a short-term rental data aggregator, estimates that Kennebunk has 378 active short-term rentals.

The proposal does not go as far as some other short-term rental regulations passed in Maine. Neighboring Kennebunkport has, for example, implemented a cap on short-term rentals, a policy that was adopted in 2021 and went into effect earlier this year. Bar Harbor has also implemented a cap on short-term rentals not occupied by the owner.

At the meeting, Schulte and Osterrieder emphasized that they see the proposal as relatively narrow in scope.

“There is a whole range of potential issues, and challenges and questions about short-term rentals. And what we focused on at this first step is literally just looking at safety,” said Schulte during the meeting. He said that the town may consider further regulations down the line but was adamant that that’s not something Kennebunk is entertaining right now.

One person at the meeting questioned the town’s stated focus on safety, calling it disingenuous.

The man, who did not want to give his name to the Kennebunk Post, said no reasonable person would object to a safety argument, but the town’s real aim was regulating land use and clamping down on the short-term rental market.


His remarks generated applause from the audience.

Rob Holmes, who operates a short-term rental in Kennebunk and went to the meeting, said he’s in favor of the proposal, citing the way that short-term rentals can dominate a community if not regulated — but he also somewhat sympathizes with the man’s comments.

“I think the (safety) approach is fine, but in my opinion, be transparent … it is a good first step to say ‘OK, guys, we’re just gonna get safe, and then we’ll see if we’re going to restrict it.’ Well, honestly, of course they’re going to restrict it over time,” he said.

When asked to respond, Osterrieder said that the town is not currently sizing up the market in order to regulate it, but that could change depending on what they learn if the proposed ordinance passes and takes effect.

Another attendee, Steve Kingston, said he’s worried the fire department’s safety inspection list may be overly onerous. For example, he said, he didn’t think a number of cottages on the beach would have the required “egress” windows.

“If you think you have three to 500 (short term rentals), are 100 going to fail? Are 100 looking at $50,000 to $100,000 worth of renovations in order to do this? Those are the things that are easy to overlook … in terms of the rubber really meeting the road,” he said.


Others were strongly in favor of the proposal.

Rachel Phipps, who operates a long-term rental which is currently leased to a Congolese refugee and her young child, said she’s in favor of the measure, but not just because safety is a priority. She sees regulating short-term rentals as key to easing the housing crisis in York County.

Renting a space as a short-term rental takes away housing from people who desperately need it long-term, she said.

A report issued by multiple state agencies in October, however, indicated that short-term rentals are not the main culprit behind the housing crisis – which is largely fueled by underproduction and aging housing stock.

In York County, only 1.1 percent of the overall housing supply are short term rentals that are comparable to naturally occurring affordable housing based on size, price and other factors, according to the report’s authors. Seasonal homes as a share of total homes in Maine’s coastal region have also held steady over the past two decades.

Osterreider told the Kennebunk Post that the proposed ordinance would help the town get some clarity on how many short-term rentals are decreasing the number of available year-round housing in the town. For example, he said, the ordinance would show the town which zones short-term rentals exist in, allowing them to see if short-term rentals are cropping up in areas traditionally used for long-term housing, or if they are clustered in areas where there have always been seasonal renters, such as by the beach.


When it comes to easing the housing crisis, Kennebunk has also updated its code to clear the way for greater housing production, including the construction of more accessory dwelling units, in compliance with state law. The town took the extra step of barring ADUs from being used as short-term rentals.

Kathy Polletto, another Kennebunk resident who attended but does not own a short-term rental, agrees with Phipps and thinks the town is right to be more scrutinous of the short-term rental market.

She’s especially concerned about short-term rentals that operate basically as a business — consistently renting out the space without the owner living there — in a residential neighborhood. This concern was echoed by others at the meeting.

“If you live on your property and rent out a bedroom … that’s one thing,” Polletto said, but she feels strongly that it’s wrong for someone to buy a house in town, not live there or rent it long-term.

She evoked how a revolving door of short-term renters could change the character of Kennebunk.

“We want to keep our community as a community,” Polletto said.

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