Houses in Bangor are shown in this June 2017 file photo. The city doesn't allow short-term rentals, but is starting to consider how to regulate them with an eye toward balancing tourism with housing affordability. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

People have been booking short-term rentals using Airbnb and other sites for years, but those rentals aren’t technically allowed in Bangor.

Now, the city is looking at regulating those rentals with an eye toward letting Bangor benefit from tourist traffic while ensuring that short-term units don’t drive up housing costs and lead to neighborhoods losing their residential character.

Busier tourist hubs such as Bar Harbor have grappled with how to keep housing available and affordable for full-time residents as property owners rent out a substantial portion of the housing stock to vacationers.

Bangor is looking into regulating short-term rentals — usually defined as residential units rented out to others for less than 30 days — two years after a work group looking at how to improve housing affordability suggested addressing short-term rental policy.

City staff began examining the issue about a year ago, but work has accelerated in recent months as the city has seen more residents ask if they can rent out units on their property, said Anne Krieg, the city’s planning officer. The city’s answer has been that such rentals aren’t allowed because the city code doesn’t address them.

This week, the city will hold two listening sessions over Zoom, from noon to 1 p.m. on Wednesday and from 5-6 p.m. on Thursday, to gauge residents’ opinions on short-term rentals — if they should be allowed everywhere or only in certain neighborhoods, for example, and what the regulations should be for each unit. The city is also publicizing a survey for residents.

“What we’re trying to do this week is to kind of have a blank piece of paper, go out to the community and say, ‘How do you want, or not want, to regulate this use?” Krieg said.

While short-term rentals aside from boarding houses, rooming houses and bed and breakfasts are not allowed in Bangor, the city does not actively enforce the prohibition, Bangor Code Enforcement Director Jeff Wallace said.

“From my perspective, which is one of safety, current discussions for broader short-term rental regulations are a needed first step,” Wallace said.

Short-term rentals largely cater to tourists, but a number of people with temporary work assignments in the Bangor area — including salespeople, medical professionals and construction workers — stay in short-term rentals, Krieg said. Short-term rentals could also serve as a selling point to prospective Bangor residents, who can get a taste of local life by staying in a city neighborhood rather than at a hotel.

But a proliferation of short-term rentals could leave less room for Bangor residents to find available and affordable housing. One study released last year, for example, found that more Airbnb listings in a ZIP code lead to higher rents and higher home prices.

Krieg said the City Council’s business and economic development committee will likely address short-term rentals at its March 16 meeting. She is hopeful a policy can be worked out, but understands that the process will involve a great deal of balancing.

“We need to see this as a positive economic development piece, but also, to be sure that we aren’t taking housing units that we need,” Krieg said.