SOUTH PORTLAND — City officials are moving ahead with plans to enforce new short-term rental regulations after voters on Tuesday endorsed ordinances that will make unhosted stays illegal in residential neighborhoods.

City residents voted 6,375 to 5,378 in favor of zoning and licensing ordinances that the City Council approved in July to regulate home rentals promoted on websites such as Airbnb and HomeAway.

A relaxed version of rules that were passed in February, the regulations ban unhosted short-term rentals of less than 30 days in residential zones. Hosted short-term rentals – where the owner lives on the premises – will be allowed in residential areas under certain conditions.

City Manager Scott Morelli issued a statement Wednesday saying that the regulations will go into effect Jan. 1, as intended when the council approved the retooled rules in July.

Morelli said city officials believe nearly two months “is ample time for those operating (unhosted) short-term rentals in residential zones to cease operating them as such, and to begin using their properties in a manner that is compliant with city ordinances.”

INSPECTED AND LICENSED

Under the new rules, all short-term rentals must be inspected, insured and licensed by the city.

Morelli said city staff will work with a consultant to identify and monitor short-term rental listings across various online platforms. Code enforcement staff will use special software to ferret out illegal unhosted rentals and ensure that authorized rentals are registered with the city and comply with the regulations.

Tuesday’s referendum capped a yearlong struggle over short-term rentals, an issue that is causing similar disputes in communities across the nation.

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.

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.

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

MORE INFORMATION TO COME

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.

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

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 and couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.

The modified 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.

Morelli said the City Clerk’s Office will release additional information about the registration process. He urged short-term rental operators to check the city’s website regularly for announcements and instructions.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: KelleyBouchard

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