SOUTH PORTLAND — City voters decided Tuesday that city councilors got it right in July, when they approved a second version of short-term rental regulations that banned unhosted stays in residential neighborhoods.

The referendum capped a yearlong struggle that has consumed the city – as it has communities across the nation – over home rentals promoted on popular websites such as Airbnb and HomeAway.

The vote was 6,375 to 5,378, with 1,550 blanks, according to City Clerk Emily Scully.

“We have protected the integrity of our neighborhoods,” said Jeff Steinbrink, president of Neighbors for Neighborhoods, a group that supported the ordinances.

“A lot of very dedicated people worked very hard to make this happen and we are very happy with the results,” Steinbrink said. “We knocked on nearly every door in South Portland.”

John Murphy, a short-term rental operator and leader of South Portland Citizens for Property Rights, a group that opposed the ordinances, declined to comment Tuesday.

Activists on both sides of the issue said they were defending property rights.

Supporters of the regulations said they wanted to preserve residential neighborhoods and stop houses from being turned into boutique hotels. Opponents said the regulations would go too far, including a ban on unhosted or non-owner-occupied rentals that they said would put most operators out of business.

The City Council voted 5-2 in July to approve zoning and licensing ordinances for short-term rentals, then put the regulations on hold after a second successful referendum petition. The first referendum petition had caused the council to repeal and modify an initial set of regulations approved in February.

The relaxed rules would still ban unhosted short-term rentals in residential zones. Hosted short-term rentals – where the owner lives on the premises – would be allowed in residential areas under certain conditions.

The regulations would allow two adult guests per bedroom, with a maximum of six guests per house. The original ordinance capped the total number of guests at two adults.

The council also dropped an initial ban on homeowners renting out their houses while on vacation. Owners of detached single-family homes could rent their houses for up to 14 days per year when they are away.

As of November 2017, there were 282 short-term rentals in South Portland listed on multiple websites, and 75 percent of them were for entire homes, according to the city’s online consultant.

Many other U.S. cities are struggling to rein in short-term rentals, including neighboring Portland, where the city council is already working to tighten rules approved last year.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KelleyBouchard

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