SOUTH PORTLAND — Two weeks after the city’s new short-term rental regulations went into effect, only one property had been duly registered, inspected and licensed.

To encourage greater compliance with the controversial rules, city officials are taking steps to streamline the application process and ferret out more than 300 Airbnb-style rentals that were operating in the city last fall.

The only licensed short-term rental as of Friday afternoon was an owner-occupied, single-family, waterfront property at 4 Loveitts Field Road, near Willard Beach, that offers hosted stays overlooking Casco Bay.

“There was no rush to the door to register,” said Mayor Claude Morgan, the District 1 city councilor representing South Portland’s waterfront neighborhoods. “We turned away some people before they even applied because they weren’t qualified.”

Of 10 short-term rental applications filed at City Hall since Jan. 1, five are awaiting fire inspection approval and four were denied for various reasons, City Clerk Emily Scully said Friday.

Three of the denied applications were for unhosted short-term rentals in multi-unit properties in nonresidential zones, where unhosted rentals must be in detached single-family homes, Scully said. The other denial was for a five-unit building, which exceeds the four-unit limit allowed for short-term rental properties.

In November, city residents voted 6,375 to 5,378 in favor of the zoning and licensing ordinances that the City Council approved in July to regulate home rentals promoted on websites such as Airbnb and HomeAway. Supporters said the rules would stop homes from being converted into mini-hotels, while opponents said they infringed on property rights.

HOSTED AND UNHOSTED STAYS

The regulations – a relaxed version of ordinances initially passed last February – ban unhosted short-term rentals of less than 30 days in residential zones. Hosted short-term rentals – where the owner lives on the premises – are allowed in residential areas under certain conditions.

The referendum capped a yearlong struggle over short-term rentals, an issue that has caused similar disputes in communities across the nation, including neighboring Portland, where the City Council in November tightened short-term rental rules that were passed in 2017.

The city continues to work with Host Compliance, a Seattle-based online service provider that has been helping city officials address the short-term rental issue for more than two years. In its latest contract proposal, Host Compliance said there were 182 total listings in South Portland in October 2016, which increased 51 percent to 275 listings in October 2017. That number increased 19 percent to 327 listings in October 2018.

Now, Host Compliance is scouring several websites to identify active short-term rentals in South Portland and developing an application portal on the city’s website to make it easier for operators to register, said Joshua Reny, assistant city manager.

The portal is expected to be up and running by March 1. When it is, the city will send out letters to active operators, encouraging them to register through the portal or at City Hall.

“We’re planning to have a thoughtful and methodical rollout,” Reny said. “We want to give operators an opportunity to come into compliance.”

SUMMER IS COMING

Reny acknowledged that it’s the off-season for tourism, so some operators might be waiting to register in the spring.

Under the new rules, all short-term rentals must be inspected, insured and licensed by the city. There’s a link on the city’s homepage to a 10-page short-term rental registration application packet, which contains information and forms needed to operate legally after Dec. 31.

Licenses cost $200 for hosted rentals and $400 for unhosted rentals, plus a $100 fire safety inspection fee and a $20 processing fee. Fines for violations range from $500 to $1,500 per day, which would be recovered by the city filing a lawsuit.

Under the modified regulations, hosted short-term rentals are allowed 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.

Owners of two- or three-unit buildings in residential zones may operate one unit as a short-term rental, as long as they live in one of the other units; owners of four-unit buildings may operate two apartments as short-term rentals if they live on the premises.

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.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: KelleyBouchard

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