Business License For OC Rental Discussion Continues

OCEAN CITY — The debate over requiring all short-term vacation rental listings to include business license information renewed this week, but there were still no clear-cut solutions decided upon.

During an earlier discussion last month, a debate ensued about requiring all vacation rental listings to include business license information. Staff was directed to explore that option and report back with a solution. The resulting solution presented by Planning and Community Development Director Bill Neville on Tuesday was a code amendment that would require all vacation rentals to list business license information.

“This came out of a large discussion about the online rentals, but the discussion led to a broader concern about all of the vacation rentals in Ocean City,” he said. “This would help increase the collection of rental license fees and room tax collection on unlicensed properties.”

The concern has largely been on two fronts including the apparent lack of business licenses for the hundreds of on-line vacation rentals in addition to the lack of room tax remittal for those that do acquire the requisite business license.

Mayor Rick Meehan brought in Coldwell Banker Vice President Chris Mitchell to explain the company’s position on the proposed code change. Mitchell explained the company would embrace the code change, if only to level the playing field with the growing online, unlicensed competitors.

“We are in full support of this,” he said. “We are strong believers in making sure everyone is on a level playing field. We want to be proactive with this.”

Adopting the proposed code amendment in mid-April would present challenges. Many vacation renters made plans months ago and most of the legitimate rental companies have already posted their online and print advertising, a point not lost on Meehan.

“I understand the problems with 2018,” he said. “The rental companies already have marketing materials out there and it would be difficult to go back in at this point and make changes. I think we would need some grandfathering so people who want to do the right thing are not penalized.”

Councilman John Gehrig agreed the issue likely needed more time to simmer before a decision was made.

“There seems to be some unintended consequences with this,” he said. “I absolutely support the concept, but we might need more time to get it right. I don’t want to slap fines on people who did an online or social media ad.”

Neville said the larger issue should not get bogged down by logistical concerns with marketing efforts.

“The primary objective here is to identify the properties that are renting but don’t have a license and aren’t remitting room tax,” he said. “If they advertise their business license, at least we know they have that. I think we can work through some of these things.”

Gehrig said the issue needed to be explored despite the challenges.

“Let’s be frank,” he said. “We’re trying to address the unique challenges of Internet and third-party rentals. We need to make sure they are following the rules. We need to make sure these properties that are advertising online are playing by the rules. I think the traditional rental companies are playing by the rules.”