ROCKLAND, Maine — City councilors agreed Monday night to hold off on a vote to regulate short-term vacation rentals until a forum next month to hear from those interested in the controversial issue.
Councilor Valli Geiger questioned why the proposed regulations were needed. She said the city’s code office has only had a few complaints about people renting rooms in their homes.
“This is like a solution looking for a problem,” Geiger said.
Mayor Frank Isganitis said the city has not been enforcing ordinances already on the books and that this would clarify regulations. Isganitis is co-owner and operator of the LimeRock Inn.
The City Council decided to reconsider the issue after backing off such proposals in March in the face of opposition from homeowners who rent out rooms.
Proposals by the Legislature to impose state regulations on short-term vacation rentals failed in April when the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee voted 12-0 to kill the bill, LD 436. Lodging business owners turned out to support the legislation, saying it would create a level playing field, while a much larger contingent of people who rent out rooms through programs such as Airbnb or cabins argued against new regulations, saying they were not necessary.
At that legislative hearing, Holly Lusk, senior health policy adviser for Gov. Paul LePage, said the governor instead wanted to remove any licensing requirements in place for lodging businesses.
During the public comment session of the Rockland council’s Monday meeting, opinions remained mixed on the latest proposal for regulations.
Melba Gunnison, the chair of government relations for Vacation Rental Professionals of Maine, questioned why the proposed regulations were different for someone renting a room for less than seven days compared to longer stays. She also questioned why there were stricter rules for multi-family homes.
Cheryl Michaelsen, owner of the Berry Manor Inn, said only five of the 70 transient lodging establishments in the city adhere to current laws. Michaelsen said the vast majority of those for which the ordinances are not being enforced are not owner-occupied. She said for some of these property owners, the homes they rent out rooms in are not only second homes but third, fourth, fifth or, in one case, the 40th home of the owners who are running them as a business.
Under the revised proposal, a homeowner who rents a single-family residence for six to 30 days would need to get a permit from the code officer. Homeowners who want to rent their homes for six days or fewer at a time would need planning board approval. No permit would be needed for single-family homes being rented for 30 days or more.
No permit would be needed for a single-family residence if it is rented for no more than 14 days in the entire year; the homeowner would only need to notify the code office. Code Enforcement Officer John Root said earlier this year that such a plan would allow people to rent out during busy festival times, such as the North Atlantic Blues Festival or Maine Lobster Festival.
Similar requirements would be in place for two-family residences.
The councilors agreed Monday to hold a workshop on Aug. 3 to receive more input from the public before taking a vote.
The council also met Monday night with engineers to discuss several road projects. The city is expected to seek bids next month for reconstructing 1.5 miles of Old County Road starting at the intersection with Route 17 and proceeding south. The work is expected to begin this year but not be completed until August 2016.
In November, residents voted 2,047 to 551 to borrow the $1.6 million for the work. The state is expected to contribute up to $1 million for the project.