Creating Special Zoning District Unnecessary

Creating Special Zoning District Unnecessary

Currently under discussion in Ocean City is a new zoning district that neighborhoods could seek with the goal of prohibiting all rentals shorter than 12 months.

Eligible communities for this new R-1A district include Mallard Island, Little Salisbury, Caine Keys II, Montego Bay and portions of Caine Woods.

As was reported last week, there are 3,845 parcels included in the R-1 Single Family Residential District and Mobile Home Residential  District with 276 holding rental licenses, although there are many more used as rentals off book. In 2013 and 2014, there were 67 complaints logged over 19 months. Only 13 properties received complaints, or 4 percent of the properly licensed rentals.

If the city were to go this route of instituting a new hybrid zoning classification aimed at eliminating all rentals less than one year, legislation would have to grandfather in existing properties with rental licenses because to do otherwise would be akin to changing the rules in the middle of the game. That would be unfair at a minimum and illegal at best.

In this case, the volume and severity of complaints simply do not merit hammering home this issue and rewriting the code. It’s simply not that large of a problem. Ocean City should not change its rental laws to limit the amount of time people can rent in certain districts. Instead, the city needs to focus on the amount of people renting the units, rather than coming up with more regulations. That would be tantamount to using a sledgehammer to bang in a nail on a piece of molding when a small hammer will do the job.

When kept in the proper perspective, it’s simply not a huge issue in the big picture, although certainly the impacted neighbors would disagree. The problem lies in a few properties and the data confirms it.

In R-1 (single family residential) and MH (mobile home districts) zones, city law states, “a group of not more than four persons living together by joint agreement and occupying a single housekeeping unit with single culinary facility on a cost sharing basis” is prohibited.

The law is there to be followed, but causing some blur is the fact not all properties that are being rented are actually securing rental licenses. That’s an issue the city can and should crack down on immediately.

In this case, the city just needs to do a better job of reacting to complaints and working with the rental companies who may or may not be ensuring families are being rented to per certain agreements with property owners. The city needs to be hyper reactive and be sure to let renters know this is a growing concern and they are the reason why. This is already happening on some level.

A tremendous amount of city staff time and resources has been spent on this matter over the last year. Too much in our opinion, and it’s most certainly does not merit a major rezoning that will alienate many, particularly would-be buyers in the real estate market. Buyers looking for an investment property to rent during the summer weeks will be turned off by any homes in these districts under this proposed change. That lack of flexibility to use the property as a rental sends a dreadful message, affirms what critics often say is the “land of no” in Ocean City and will send buyers elsewhere.

Any sympathy for the most vocal neighborhood for these changes — Mallard Island — was muted during an inappropriate discussion of a supposed covenant that banned minority rentals at one time at the 15th Street bayside community. It was unfortunate that this was broached in the first place because it no longer exists and admittedly could never be penned again because of its racist tendencies. Adding to this nonsense is a disturbing handwritten letter that surfaced using the “n” word and blasting the property owner for having the nerve to rent her large multi-bedroom home out in the first place and specifically to renters of the wrong color.

The city should hold off on a public hearing until the fall and instead utilize better enforcement, pro-active discussions with rental companies on ensuring lease agreements are being honored and other measures at the staff level.