not everyone thinks the current policy needs updating.
The Portland City Council on Monday night approved new short-term rental rules aimed at slowing the trend of renting private homes and apartments through services like Airbnb.
Councilors passed rules that will allow property owners to register only one short-term rental per year. Councilors also increased the cap on non-owner occupied short-term rental units to 400 from the present 300 units.
Mayor Ethan Strimling said the vote was disappointing and would hurt affordable housing in the city.
“This body will be back looking at short-term rentals in a few years because we didn’t get it right,” he said.
But Councilor Justin Costa said focusing on short-term rentals ignored many other reasons Portland has an affordable housing problem.
“The more we take out one tiny piece and try to focus on that and make that the stand-in for the issue of housing affordability, that does not do justice to the issue here,” Costa said.
“Pitting neighbor against neighbor is not going to help us solve this problem and it is not going to make anyone’s lives any better.”
Presently, the ordinance allows apartment building owners to rent units they don’t live in short term, as long as they live in the building. As a consequence, there are actually 315 units rented in non-owner occupied apartments and houses.
Another 31 units in owner-occupied buildings are on a city waiting list, making a total of 346 rental units not in a primary residence.
Some are concerned that if the trend continues, it will have a serious effect on the city’s long-term housing stock and worsen Portland’s affordability problem.
“I don’t want any building to be completely dominated by short-term rentals,” District 1 Councilor Belinda Ray said.
The practice of renting a private room, home or apartment for a night or two has become a popular alternative to hotels, spread through online services like Airbnb.
Supporters of short-term rentals say it supports local economies and helps homeowners pay for taxes and improvements.
Critics, however, contend that short-term rentals are taking needed housing for full-time residents off the market, pushing rents up and eroding neighborhood character.
The updated ordinance clarifies that after the new rules take effect on Dec. 1 only homes or apartments that are a primary residence can be registered as owner-occupied. The non-owner occupied units that are registered, even those that exceed the cap, can be re-registered for the next year.
Several property owners who spoke at the meeting Monday said they made improvements to their multi-unit buildings they live in with the expectation they could rent them short-term. They were dismayed to learn the rules were changing and were not allowed to register a short-term rental in their building.
Thibodeau, the District 2 councilor, said the rules work and do not need a wholesale rewrite. He also doesn’t think there is evidence short-term rentals are eroding the city’s affordable housing stock.
“In short, I don’t think we should pin the affordability crisis on the shared economy,” he said.
Airbnb also believes the city’s new rules go too far.
“Simply put, we believe that there is clear value in continuing to foster STR activity among non-primary residences and that there is no evidence suggesting that short-term rental activity is a primary driver of rent increases in the city of Portland,” said Josh Meltzer, chief of Northeast public policy for the online company.
Instead, Airbnb advocates a tiered approach that would distinguish between and have progressive regulatory schemes for occasional hosts, regular hosts for primary residences and non-primary home hosts.
While it supports grandfathering existing registered units above the cap “we encourage the council to recognize the benefits of allowing new hosts to also list secondary homes going forward,” Meltzer said.
But some neighborhood activists don’t believe the council’s new rules go far enough.
Last week, a group called Munjoy Hill Conservation Collaborative sent councilors a petition with 35 signatures demanding a one-person, one-listing system only for primary residences or a tenant who has landlord approval – similar to the rules passed by South Portland voters on Nov. 6.
Karen Snyder, a member of the collaborative who lives on Waterville Street, is disappointed the city is honoring registered non-owner occupied units that now exceed the limit.
She’s also worried people will find new loopholes in the city’s ordinance and keep registering new non owner-occupied units.
“Ultimately, I think it is a step in the right direction, but if you actually review the ordinance right now, it is really wordy and sometimes not really clear,” Snyder said.
“Creating a new one from scratch would be better,” she added. “You are just trying to fix a broken policy, putting a band-aid on it.”
Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: