Ocean City has a hot potato on its hands regarding short-term rentals in residential districts, and there are no simple solutions that do not come with enforcement concerns.
Although the concept of unruly and inconsiderate renters as neighbors has been a concern among year-round residents for years, the concept was called a “big problem” in May by a former chairman of the Ocean City Planning Commission. It’s a shared concern in the year-round residential communities and seems to be getting worse.
“We chose to pay a higher price to live here and this has become a big problem,” Dr. Geoff Robbins said back in May. “We’re beginning to experience things we never have before. The desire of people living in those communities is to have a less intrusive life without having to call the police at all hours. A lot of those renting in residential neighborhoods just don’t care. They’re not familiar with the kids who live nearby or the animals that live there. They’re speeding through the neighborhoods and parking wherever they want. It’s really putting a strain on these otherwise quiet neighborhoods.”
Many people buy properties here with the sole purpose of renting it out more often than they stay in it. That’s been taking place in OceanCity and other resorts for generations.
The problem here is symptomatic of what we are seeing in society today. People are different today. They are not being raised with the same moral values and guidance compass. They simply do not care about others, have no respect for people from different socio-economic backgrounds and there is a disturbing sense of entitlement.
That’s why we hear the horror stories of weekly or seasonal renters jamming loud music at 2:30 in the morning and parking their vehicles in neighbors’ driveways and on their lawns. Those complaints are tame compared to other more concerning incidents we have heard from year-round residents.
OceanCity has some abilities to address the rental issues within residential districts in its code. Some options worth considering are a modern education campaign, ensuring rental licenses are being secured as they are supposed to by law, further limiting the amount of people that can rent one unit and placing a maximum amount of time on rentals in residential districts.
This is a tricky situation for OceanCity officials. Investment-minded individuals make up the majority of property owners in Ocean City, and the fact is many are unaware of who is renting their properties most of the time. The rental companies may know, but their discretion is restricted by housing laws. There are some criteria to be followed, but it’s difficult to track exactly how many people are actually staying in a rental and for what period of time.
A thorough examination of the code and seeking precedents in other areas will be a helpful process. The goal must be to add some teeth to the code to specifically crack down on problem renters while not hurting the investment property owners that are so critical to OceanCity on many fronts.
One property owner we spoke with is aware of the year-round community’s concerns, but cautioned the city to not over-react and hurt him and others like him. He owns a three-bedroom bayfront unit in the mid-town area. He stays in the unit every year during the month of September, but rents it out during the three peak summer months. He winterizes it from November to April. He sells the three main months of the summer to friends, who in turn stay in the unit one week each during their respective months and rent it out the other three weeks. It’s generates cash flow for all involved.
OceanCity has identified a significant problem with these offensive renters in residential neighborhoods and providing specific rules to address these concerns could work to some degree, but, as is the case with any law, enforcement will be difficult. Additionally, being too iron handed with code changes will upset a lot of people who bought homes under a previous set of rules and could have major ramifications down the line on the city’s second-home real estate market and its viability perception.