Portland’s planners spent almost half a year trying to get a handle on the ballooning number of short-term rentals available in the city, but as they deal with an ever-expanding number of listings, new rules don’t seem to be having the desired effect.

With less than a month before a Jan. 1 deadline, fewer than a quarter of short-term rental units in Portland have registered with the city and paid required fees.

The popular home-sharing website Airbnb alone says it has 950 active listings in Portland – a 50 percent increase from 2016 – and similar sites like Homeaway and VRBO also have listings in the city.

But only 218 short-term rental units were registered as of Nov. 30, according to city records. “We are pleased with how many we have got so far, (but) we expected more to come in,” said Michael Russell, Portland’s director of permitting and inspections. Operators who fail to register on time can be fined $100 a day, although the city only uses penalties as a last option, Russell said. So far, the city has received $20,000 in fees.

“We are certainly hoping this is the first wave that is coming in. We would like people to come forward and register sooner instead of us having to find them afterward,” he said.

Under regulations passed by the City Council in April, anyone renting housing for fewer than 30 days has to pay annual fees and register with the city. Yearly fees start at $100, and people who register multiple units pay extra fees for each one.

The rules only allow 300 city units that are not occupied by their owners, and prohibits rentals in single-family homes that are not the owner’s primary residence.

According to city records, 152 people have registered short-term rental units with the city. Of those, 67 hosts registered 98 non-owner-occupied units, nearly a third of the annual capped amount.

City staff intend to send at least one more notification to operators reminding them of the upcoming deadline, Russell said. The city is finalizing a contract with a company to monitor home-sharing sites and compliance with the new rules, Russell added.

“If we had to track down people, it would be a lengthy process for us,” he said. “We hope people would do the right thing and come in and register.”

SLOW RESPONSE

Portland pursued short-term rental regulations last year, amid concerns that services like Airbnb took housing options away from local residents and altered the character of neighborhoods.

Lars Whelan, who rents three units in his Noyes Street apartment building on Airbnb, said his registration went smoothly and he can’t explain why other operators aren’t signing up, especially since he was notified multiple times about the new rules. Whelan is a member of Share Portland, a group of short-term rental operators organized during the rule-making process.

“I get lots of notice from the city, I get emails, texts, mail,” Whelan said. “I have no idea where the shortfall came from.”

Bookings have been slower recently compared to previous years, he said, which could be a result of extra competition from new listings. Whelan started renting on Airbnb in 2012.

“It used to be in the first couple of years you rented out all the time; now it is three to four times a month,” Whelan said. “It has been the slowest fall since I started doing it.”

Andrew L. Kalloch, a public policy specialist for Airbnb, said Portland’s regulations balance neighborhood concerns with residents who want to earn extra money with a home-share. The rules have been used as a model for other cities, Kalloch said. Listings in Portland grew 50 percent in 2017 and approximately 72,500 inbound guests stayed at Airbnb units in the city, according to the company. A typical host rented for 32 nights a year and earned $6,800 in supplemental income.

“What we see is that reasonable regulation can foster growth, and we hope it continues into 2018,” Kalloch said.

Entire house or apartment rentals account for about 70 percent of Airbnb listings in Portland, according to the company. Airbnb does not have data on rental prices it can share, Kalloch said, but the average nightly rate on the Portland peninsula last week was $143, according to a search of Airbnb’s website.

Airbnb instructs owners of the regulations and registration obligations in their cities when they join the service, but it isn’t responsible for ensuring compliance.

“The onus ultimately falls on the city to make sure people comply; we are not the enforcement entity here,” Kalloch said.

The number of Airbnb rentals statewide doubled in 2016, and Maine hosts earned $26 million, according to the company.

Ralph Baldwin, another member of Share Portland, suspects the registration cost and paperwork might dissuade some short-term hosts from listing units, and could limit future growth of short-term rentals. Baldwin doesn’t own any properties but hosts three Airbnb apartments in partnership with their owners.

“It is possible some people have decided, ‘We are not making as much money as we thought; now we have to get a number and register and all that and we just don’t want to bother,’ ” Baldwin said.