March 27, 2020
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Rockland officials will consider how short-term rentals are disrupting its housing market

Lauren Abbate | BDN
Lauren Abbate | BDN
Main Street, Rockland, Maine.

ROCKLAND, Maine — Most of the non-owner occupied short-term rentals in this city are owned by people who don’t live here, according to a task force that’s been reviewing the issue for the past year.

As the city works to address an affordable housing crunch, officials are again considering how short-term rentals, primarily those advertised to visitors on apps such as Airbnb and Home Away, impact neighborhoods and housing availability.

This week, the city’s short-term rental task force will present to councilors recommendations for regulating these types of rentals. They will hold a forum Monday night to share data collected over the past year and hear input from residents.

While proponents of these types of rentals say they’re a way for investors to earn income, opponents worry they cause disruption in neighborhoods and take units out of the year-round housing market. This can artificially inflate the market rate as renters compete for available inventory.

“Many of the property owners are from out of state,” said Callie Black, chair of the short-term rental task force, adding that 75 percent of the town’s 48 Airbnb units fit that bill. “Some people may have an intention of coming here at some point to live and this is a way to pay the property taxes and maintenance until they’re able to do that. Others, I’m sure are just doing it as an investment.”

Over the past two years, the number of people renting properties in Maine through Airbnb has doubled. There are more than 12,000 Airbnb listings across the state, according to the company’s data, and last summer hosts made $55.7 million.

While this benefits the state’s tourism industry, many coastal cities are grappling with how to regulate these types of rentals as the area becomes an increasingly expensive place to live. The average monthly cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Rockland is about $1,150, according to the website Rent Jungle. That’s up more than $70 from six months ago.

“We have a very close-knit neighborhood. Everybody helps everybody else,” Rockland resident Adele Faber said. “When you bring in short-term rentals it changes the dynamic entirely.”

The city grants permits for owner-occupied rentals, in which the owner either rents out rooms or an apartment attached to their primary residence. There are 24 owner-occupied short term rentals in Rockland.

Rockland City Council capped the number of non-owner occupied short-term rentals allowed in the city in 2018, but 23 property owners are on a waitlist who hope to rent out their properties.

Before the advent of rental sites like Airbnb, Bar Harbor tried to limit short-term rentals there and it backfired. In 2006, the town passed an ordinance regulating the location of these types of rentals and faced pushback in the form of lawsuits.

The town rescinded its ordinance, but last year councilors reconsidered it. Portland and South Portland have also taken steps to place some level of regulation and permitting on non-owner occupied rentals.

City councilors will hear the task force’s recommendations at an agenda-setting meeting Monday night.


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