Commissioner Proposes County Issue Short-Term Rental Licenses

SNOW HILL – At least one elected official wants the county to explore the idea of issuing rental licenses to property owners opening their homes to tourists.

During a meeting Tuesday, Worcester County Commissioner Joe Mitrecic suggested the county consider the idea of issuing rental licenses. He said Ocean City’s attention to short-term rentals and the requisite licensing made him think it was also something Worcester County should research.

“In these times, where we’re looking to capitalize on some revenue due to our budget woes, this would be the time to look into this type of thing,” Mitrecic said.

For more than a year, officials in Ocean City have been monitoring the growing number of short-term vacation rentals available online through websites such as Airbnb and VRBO. They want to make sure the resort property owners offering the rentals have a business license and are paying the appropriate room tax.

Mitrecic told his fellow commissioners Tuesday that the websites offering short-term vacation rentals featured rooms and homes available not just in Ocean City but throughout Worcester County. He said a search for such rentals in Ocean Pines brought up more than 100 properties.

“I think the county needs to look at the possibility of doing a rental license situation for the people out in the county renting their homes to tourists, so to speak, on short term rentals…” Mitrecic said. “They should be paying room tax. They should also have to have a rental license in order to do that.”

He said creation of a rental license would also provide better accountability.

“It also helps out the residents in the community where people are doing these short-term rentals as it gives them a voice if there are problems with the rental properties,” he said.

Though there was no further discussion of Mitrecic’s suggestion at Tuesday’s meeting, in an interview this week Ed Tudor, the county’s director of development review and permitting, said creating a rental license would be a lengthy process. First, he explained, the county’s existing regulations would have to be reviewed.

“There are a number of things already on the books,” he said, adding that there was already a room tax provision in the code as well as a tourist permit, which applies to certain people renting their homes for short-term periods.

Tudor said the regulations that go along with the county’s various zoning districts would also have to be reviewed.

“The problem, simply put, is the way business is done today has moved beyond what our laws said when they were adopted,” Tudor said.

He said that if the commissioners decided to pursue establishment of a rental license, existing laws would have to be reviewed for consistency and staff would have to determine what changes were necessary to get the results officials were looking for. Tudor said that when the current rules and regulations were put in place, rentals in the county amounted to hotels, motels and cottages. The concept of using the internet to book a vacation rental wasn’t on the horizon.

“It’s really complicated,” he said. “The laws have been eclipsed over time with modern business practices.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.