WATERVILLE — The city is considering rules and regulations for short-term rentals in Waterville — such as Airbnb, Vrbo and HomeAway — as the industry continues to grow locally.

Waterville currently does not regulate such rentals, but officials are looking at regulations in other cities, such as Portland and South Portland, to see whether they would be appropriate for Waterville, according to City Planner Ann Beverage and City Manager Michael Roy.

In 2018, about 425,000 people stayed at Airbnb rentals in Maine, and Airbnb is just one form of short-term rental. That number is 50% more than the previous year and more than double that of those who stayed at Airbnbs two years ago.

Airbnb hosts in Maine earned $66 million in 2018 — a 53% increase over the previous year, the Portland Press Herald reported earlier this month. Total host earnings were up $23 million from 2017, according to Airbnb.

In the Waterville area, there are dozens of short-term rentals, although it is difficult to cite just how many are within the city limits because websites advertising short-term rentals in Waterville include properties within and beyond the city’s border.

In Waterville, Roy and Beverage said the city has received a handful of complaints from neighbors of short-term rentals. Some of those complaints have focused on people hosting large gatherings and parking vehicles all over the street. Other complaints have referenced neighborhoods where owners of single-family houses are now renting rooms or entire homes to many people, generating increased traffic.

“We’re looking at what other communities have in place, and if we find those rules and regulations seem to be reasonable approaches, then the city might consider adopting some kind of permit process for conversion of homes to Airbnbs,” Roy said.

Roy asked Beverage to draft a list of possible rules and regulations. The City Council would be the first to review the proposed rules and then consider referring them to the Planning Board for recommendation. The matter would go back to the council, which would make a final decision.

“This would be in the zoning ordinance, so the council would refer it to the Planning Board for public hearing, just like a zoning change,” Beverage said.

People who live on streets such as Country Way, Averill Terrace and Burleigh Street have filed complaints with the city about short-term rentals. Roy said the number of short-term rentals in the city is growing and he thinks the complaints could increase.

“I think we need to seriously look at it,” Roy said.

He said the city wants to hear from people if they are experiencing problems.

“I think the big question is this: If they feel there is a problem, they need to let us know because we don’t want to create solutions where there are no problems. Is this a solution looking for a problem? What we want to know is what people are seeing and experiencing out in the community.”

Stonework leads to the front porch of an Airbnb rental at 34 Burleigh St. in Waterville.

Dave Brown, of Burleigh Street, lives next door to an Airbnb — a large, renovated 4-bedroom house whose owners live out-of-state but whose children attend Colby College, so most of the people who rent there are parents of college students.

The Airbnb has been open about two years and in that time, Brown said he has experienced no problems except for vehicles sometimes blocking his driveway.

But the Airbnb rental owners, Grant and Beth Freeland, are attentive and have been working on the issue, according to Brown, who has lived on the street about 50 years.

“That’s the only issue for us, the parking issue,” he said. “It’s like living next door to a hotel, which we never planned on.”

Brown, 82, is a former city councilor, the city’s first Airport board of directors chairman and first president of Delta Ambulance. He said that overall, his experience with the Freelands has been positive.

Beth Freeland said she has been working to solve the parking issue and she may, in the future, consider developing another driveway on the opposite side of the building to put most of the parking.

“I have had incredibly good luck — I’ve had really good people staying there,” she said, when asked about her experience with renters.

Freeland said she has told Brown and his wife that if an issue arises, she wants to know immediately so she can do something about it.

“I run that place like I would want someone next to me renting a house,” Freeland said. “I try to be as responsive as I can.”

Stained glass and a wreath warm up the entryway Thursday to an Airbnb rental at 36 Burleigh St. in Waterville.

Like other Airbnb owners, Freeland was required to register with the state, and a percentage of her rental rate for rooms goes to the state. She pays a fee to Airbnb and those who rent from her also pay a fee to Airbnb.

“It’s not a huge amount,” she said. “The higher the rental rate, the lower the fee amount.”

Like other Airbnb hosts, she creates her own set of rules for her property, including that no parties are allowed, she said. Renters who apply online must accept and agree to all the rules of the house.

A call to Maine Revenue Services, part of the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services, seeking comment about how short-term rental hosts claim income and pay taxes to the state, and how the state tracks such rentals, was not returned.

Waterville Code Enforcement Officer Dan Bradstreet said he does not know how many short-term rentals are in the city.

“I currently have no way of knowing who and how many short term rentals are in the city,” he said Friday in an email. “Based on the Airbnb website, there appear to be quite a few. But addresses are not shown on these types of websites until the room is booked. I tried contacting Airbnb to get a better sense of where they are, but got nowhere with them.”

SHORT-TERM RENTAL RULES ELSEWHERE

The city of Portland requires short-term rental units to be registered with the city, since the City Council there approved rules two years ago. People must apply each year and registration forms must be renewed by Dec. 31.

“Registering helps us partner with you to ensure a safe place for renters to stay,” the city’s short-term rental rules say. “There are penalties that may be assessed for operating an unregistered rental unit. And please be aware there is a $1,000 fine for providing false information on the registration form.”

Portland’s buildings and building regulations require owners to pay so much per unit in the registration fee, and the fee for non-owner-occupied units is higher than for owner-occupied.

No more than 400 non-owner occupied, short-term rental units, or those where the owner does not live in the building, may be registered in any one calendar year, and that cap has been met in Portland. No more non-owner occupied units may open in the city, but if a current one changes hands, the new owner may register it again.

Portland City Councilor Jill Duson, who is chairwoman of the council’s Housing Committee, said the city initially launched rules and regulations for short-term rentals but eventually tweaked them as time went on to better serve the city. The rules require that hosts register with the city, undergo inspection and meet housing safety codes.

“I’m glad we stayed open to coming back to fix it (regulations),” Duson, a 20-year councilor, said Friday in a phone interview. “I actually think we have a very good model.”

Portland decided to take action on short-term rentals for two reasons, she said. The major reason was that the number of short-term rentals were growing and the city was concerned about losing units that would be valuable in the long-term market to short-term rentals, according to Duson. The rental market is very tight in Portland, she said.

The second reason is that neighbors and abutters to some short-term rental units were complaining that they were poorly managed, Duson said. In a couple of instances, absentee landlords were converting properties to short-term rentals to become party houses, she said. There was a big impact on the neighborhoods, as traffic increased and people were arriving at the units inebriated, she said.

“They were disrupting the peaceful nature of the neighborhood — two or three poorly managed rentals that drove us to take action,” Duson said.

She said that when developing its rules, Portland hired a company that tracks all people who advertise short-term rentals, so as to develop a list and identify those who have registered with the city and those who have not.

“Last year was our first year of compliance and enforcement so we had a list of 30 or so folks not registered or re-registered from one year to the next,” she said.

Portland also has an ordinance for “disorderly houses,” and adjusted it to make clear that it applies to short-term rentals as well, according to Duson.

Asked what advice she would give to a city such as Waterville which is looking at developing rules for short-term rentals, Duson said she recommends hiring a company to track short-term rentals, as Portland did, so the city knows how many there are, and where.

“That has really been very valuable to us because we had the real data in order to do the re-write of our rules,” she said.

If and when Waterville adopts regulations, Portland officials will look at them to see if any would be useful for Portland, she said.

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