Portland faces Election Day vote on short-term rentals limit

US: Portland, the largest city in the US state of Maine, has introduced a ballot measure as part of US Election Day which would place strict restrictions on short-term rentals.

The measures seek to eliminate non-owner occupied and tenant occupied short-term rentals, increase violation fines and raise registration fees for hosts.

Question E, proposed by the Southern Maine Democratic Socialists of America, is placed alongside four other ballot measures to be decided on election day for the city. Proponents claim that the specifics of the measure are necessary to ease pressure on housing stock and could return up to 400 individual units to the long-term market.

The referendum will eliminate short-term rentals in units not occupied by their owner and would prevent those flouting these laws from operating further rentals. It also will increase registration fees to $1000 for each mainland unit and will strengthen penalties with fines of $1000 a day or more for violations.

Opponents say that these measures would cause financial hardship for property owners who need the income for mortgage payments. Furthermore, these sales may not return to the market, but rather may lead to condominium conversions.

Chris Korzen, treasurer of Portland Homeowners and Tenants Coalition, told The Portland Press Herald: “We already have regulations. We have already been through this twice before. The City Council debated it at length and figured out a way to make sure we didn’t become a city of just short-term rentals while allowing them as well.”

Korzen represents a political action committee (PAC) which has spent over $67,400 in unpaid debts and obligations, including $6,100 in contributions from Airbnb. Another PAC opposed to the measure has received $262,885 in cash and in-kind support, including the National Realtors Association and the Maine Association of Realtors.

Portland initially laid out short-term rental regulations in January 2018, setting a loose definition for non-owner-occupied short-term rentals and limiting them at 300. Since then the city has increased that limit to 400 and created stricter definitions of the asset class.

It has also hired a third-party consultant to identify unregistered rentals, following the trend of other cities hiring external assistance. The city has collected $22,900 in fines so far.