2018-02-09 / Letters

Reader disappointed in story

To the editor:

I was disappointed and frankly stunned at the misinformation provided by Duke Harrington’s article titled, “City signals ban on most short-term rentals.” Perhaps that title was eye-catching, especially on the front page, but it was also grossly misleading.

Before anything else, I would like to say that what John Murphy (apparently the only person interviewed for the story) does in allowing family members of ill children to stay in his home is a wonderful thing, and I cannot think of anyone I know in South Portland, including our hard-working city councilors and staff, who would not agree. And frankly, I think it is unfortunate that the author put Mr. Murphy through that kind of interview and played on his emotions (and everyone else’s), without following the first basic rule of journalism and checked his facts.

There is already an enormous amount of misinformation out there, and this publication just contributed to that ongoing problem. Did the author speak with anyone from the city? From the council? Did he read the ordinances? There was no mention of that in the article, which also included numerous typos and incorrect grammar (does the Sentry no longer have copy editors?). If the story had been properly researched before publishing it, critical facts either left out or stated incorrectly might have been avoided.

First of all, the current ordinances in South Portland do not allow for short-term rentals, so existing ones are technically in violation and always have been. This is not a ban on something that is already allowed – it is an attempt to curtail abuses of the current ordinances, while also trying to potentially allow owner-occupied short-term rentals where owners are onsite to oversee things.

There have been numerous problems with noise, traffic, people putting fire pits on roofs (yikes) and other concerns caused by non-resident short-term rentals. All the city is trying to do is enforce ordinances that already exist to protect our neighborhoods from these disruptions. That includes people like Mr. Murphy – and the rest of us who actually live here but do not have the means to buy a home solely used as an investment property. The 30-day-minimum rental rule mentioned is for non-owner-occupied units (again, Mr. Murphy’s is owner-occupied which is a critical difference).

Landlords of non-owner occupied short-term rentals are understandably concerned that their investment properties could be affected if existing ordinances are enforced. But they created this situation themselves by not checking (or willfully ignoring) the existing rules before buying these properties in the first place. Why should those of us that actually live in our neighborhoods be punished because of non-residents who violated the rules by turning a former neighbor’s home into a business? They do not have to live with the noise, traffic, and other problems their businesses create in our residential neighborhood. But we do, and our city officials are rightfully responding to these problems.

I respectfully disagree with Mr. Murphy’s portrayal of the city, council and the process – because there have been numerous public meetings where residents and property owners have had the opportunity to speak, with more scheduled. Neither Mayor Cohen or anyone else is deciding anything by themselves. I encourage anyone seriously interested in finding out the truth as it evolves in this process, to come to the meetings and listen, and speak if they like and be heard.

There is very much a democratic process being upheld in South Portland, but unfortunately many people have been alarmed by a campaign of misinformation from non-resident property owners – and even corporations like Airbnb – who either do not find out the facts first, or distort them for their own financial ends. Many of the same individuals who created the problems to begin with by having noisy, over-crowded, unattended rentals, and who have not only violated the law of the existing ordinances, but the intent as well.

Those of us that live here year-round would just like a return of our peaceful neighborhoods which existed before non-owner occupied short-term rental businesses came along, and to have actual neighbors again. Fair is a very subjective thing, and to many of us, having the ability to protect our neighborhoods from improper businesses in our midst is very fair.

Carla Yount South Portland

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