2018-02-23 / Community

City bans most short-term rental options

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – Following a five-hour meeting on the topic, Tuesday, Feb. 20, the South Portland City Council adopted a licensing process designed to bar the rental of rooms or homes for durations of less than 30 days in residential zones unless the property owner lives in the home and is present at the time of the rental. Such rentals that are allowed must now be registered with the city and are limited to no more than two adults and one infant. Any rental contracts signed before Feb. 6 will be allowed to go forward through Sept. 15.

Only Councilor Adrian Dowling voted against the new limits, saying the council was acting on “a huge amount of fear, and very few facts.” Dowling said he felt the city would have achieved better result had it tasked a professionally led committee of stakeholders with recommending rules, rather than merely responding to a series of two- and five-minute statements from residents on the issue.

The council also adopted an associated zoning change which clarifies that any residential use not specifically permitted in city codes is not allowed, a flip from the previous assumption by many that a use was allowed unless specifically banned. Councilor Eben Rose joined Dowling in voting against that aspect of the new regulation, saying he felt the topic of short-term rentals was a code enforcement issue best handled through land use zoning, rather than licensing.

In a Jan. 24 memo, City Manager Scott Morelli acknowledged the city’s code enforcement officer was never asked for a ruling on whether existing bans on “inns” in residential zones applies to short-term rentals because “there is no guarantee the (enforcement officer) will determine the existing ordinance prohibits” them.

In an Oct. 30 email, City Attorney Sally Daggett advised a licensing process was preferable because current zoning language is “unlikely to be disposition in court,” while any new zoning definitions could be open to costly appeals that also might fall before a court challenge as, “the Maine Supreme Court has recently been critical of municipalities and their drafting and administration/enforcement of municipal zoning ordinances.”

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