AUGUSTA — City officials are considering new regulations in response to concerns that needed long-term housing could be snatched up by out-of-state speculators and converted into short-term rental units that cater to tourists, hard partiers and others who might be disruptive in residential neighborhoods.

Before changes happen, however, members of the city’s planning staff must catch up to problems they have identified with the city’s aging stock of regular rental housing, which they have said is rife with dangerous conditions that put some renters’ lives at risk.

In a recent discussion about short-term rentals on websites, such as Airbnb, city councilors expressed concern that houses and apartment buildings in Augusta that are now occupied year-round could be converted into short-term rentals and, thus, reduce the already-sparse offerings on the regular housing market.

Due to a shortage of housing, the market has seen escalating rents and waiting lists, according to city officials.

Those officials also said short-term renters staying at a house for a couple of days while on vacation, or perhaps to host a bachelor or bachelorette party there, are more likely to make noise, park illegally or do other things that could disturb the rest of the neighborhood.

City Councilors said that unlike what is happening in some coastal Maine communities, Augusta does not yet seem overrun with short-term rental housing that is significantly taking away from the available inventory for regular, long-term renters.


Councilors agreed to sit on the potential problem for now to not overburden city staff members who are already deeply involved in crafting a proposal to create a licensing system for apartment buildings and hotels in the city that would require units that do not now undergo any inspection to be inspected to ensure they are safe.

“This is a valid issue, no doubt about it, but I’d like to see us focus on the apartments we have now that are unsafe, where people are living right now,” said Ward 4 Councilor Eric Lind during a council meeting Thursday night. “I think there is the potential for the loss of life, and I’d like to have the focus be on that right now — on unsafe living conditions in the city.”

Matt Nazar, the city’s director of development services, said Rob Overton, director of code enforcement, has been working on creating a licensing system that would require all apartment buildings and hotels in the city to be inspected to make sure they meet safety codes that Nazar hopes will be presented soon.

Nazar said the city’s code officers discover dangerous violations on a weekly or sometimes daily basis, with most units not undergoing regular inspections.

Some councilors suggested that once the licensing system is in place for regular rental units, additional regulations targeting short-term rentals could be worked into the system.

Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti agreed the already-underway work meant to address safety problems with a licensing system “needs to go forward first and (regulations of short-term rentals) could kind of build upon that.”


“If we can get that product that you’re working on drafting, and get that pretty much under control, then we could add on to it,” Conti said.

Conti said in some of Maine’s communities, such as Eastport in Washington County, many houses formerly available for long-term rental are now available only to short-term renters because the owners can make as much money renting to vacationers for a few days at a time — for two or three months a year — as they might make with regular renters for a full year.

Nazar said a big challenge in regulating short-term rentals is identifying them. He said there are 60 to 70 websites that offer short-term rentals. He said about 10 Maine communities, most of them on the coast, now regulate them.

At-Large Councilor Abigail St. Valle said she is concerned large, out-of-state conglomerates could come in, buy many houses and convert them into short-term rentals. She suggested requiring the owners of local short-term rentals to live at their rental units, or at least live in Augusta.

“I totally agree short-term rentals have a place in our city, but we need to make sure we’re regulating them,” St. Valle said. “I think licensing to make sure they live in Augusta and are only allowed to have one unit they do for Airbnb, instead of doing three houses.”

Conti said it might be unconstitutional to have a residency requirement in short-term rental regulations so, before pursuing that option, Augusta officials should confirm whether it would be legal.

City Manager Susan Robertson said officials would keep the issue in mind, and if short-term rentals become more of a problem, or when city staff members have more time, a proposal to regulate them could be revisited.

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