Cape Elizabeth residents, tired of noisy summer rentals, propose new rules

Posted Sept. 12, 2011, at 10:36 p.m.

CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine — Some Cape Elizabeth residents are angry about what they describe as high traffic and raucous behavior at homes being rented out to vacationers, and two such residents told the Town Council on Monday night they want the town to consider tighter regulations on the rentals.

“We’ve had some instances on Lawson Road where 20 or 30 cars were parked down the street,” David Volin, who lives on the road, told the council. “We had other instances where the noise was really excessive. In an area where this was traditionally a quiet neighborhood, to endure weekend after weekend of excessive noise is really off-putting.”

Betty Crane, a fellow town resident who said she lived on Lawson Road for many years, also urged the councilors to take action, either by assigning a review of applicable codes to the town’s ordinance committee or by taking up the review themselves. She warned that if the town did not act quickly to respond to the problem of rentals in her neighborhood getting out of control, the issue would spread to other neighborhoods in the scenic, coastal community.

“Make some decisions before it’s too late,” she told the council.

Town Manager Michael McGovern said the trend of homeowners renting their residences has increased nationwide during a downturn in the housing market, as homes that would otherwise be sold or on the market are instead being rented out.

According to information distributed to the council, 24 Cape Elizabeth properties were listed for rent for prices of up to $7,000 per week as of Sept. 6. With the increase in home rentals, said McGovern, has been an increase in complaints by year-round residents about the behavior of some of the renters.

McGovern said the town receives “about a dozen” such complaints a year. However, the town manager said, Codes Enforcement Officer Bruce Smith “has not felt that there has been any existing rules or codes being violated” at the rented homes.

That spurred some of the aggrieved neighbors to call for the codes to change.

David Ginn, whose home at 5 Sea Barn Road was used for a recent wedding that generated complaints, told the council he cares about protecting the quality of life in his neighborhood, but that his neighbors will never be satisfied with how he runs his property.

He said he tries to impose a four-car policy on renters of his home to prevent clogged town roads, and he said the rentals are necessary to help him maintain the property. The town recently increased the assessed value of the property from $1.1 million to $1.5 million, he said.

“It’s been very difficult to pay the taxes,” he told the council.

McGovern acknowledged that the practice of renting out homes is legal, but expressed concern that if homes are rented out regularly, the town is obligated to ensure the living space is safe for its temporary occupants.

“It’s been a common practice for centuries,” McGovern said. “The issue is: When does a residence cease to be a residence and become a business?”

Town Councilor Sara Lennon echoed that sentiment, noting that bed & breakfasts are subjected to town scrutiny, such as location limitations and regular fire and safety code inspections, but rented homes, which are just as frequently occupied by vacationers, are not.

“I see a wide discrepancy between restrictions on bed & breakfasts and on rentals,” she said.

“I’m certainly loathe to restrict anybody’s use of their private property,” said councilor Jessica Sullivan. “On the other hand, such use should not inhibit somebody else from enjoying their private property.”

The council on Monday night ultimately voted unanimously to have the ordinance committee review codes pertaining to home rentals and return to the council in the future with recommendations.

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