SNOW HILL – The Worcester County Commissioners approved a bill designed to regulate short-term rentals this week.
On Tuesday, the commissioners voted 4-2 to approve Bill 19-3, which imposes occupancy limits and parking requirements on properties rented on a short-term basis. Commissioners Chip Bertino and Jim Bunting, who opposed the bill, said it didn’t address all the issues experienced by those whose neighborhoods had been inundated with short-term rentals.
“Quite truthfully this would make the situation in Ocean Pines worse,” Bertino said.
In August, the commissioners approved three of four proposed bills designed to enable the county to enact a comprehensive rental license program. The only bill they didn’t approve, Bill 19-3, underwent various revisions before being the subject of a public hearing this week. As presented Tuesday, the bill, which affects rentals less than 28 days, bases bedroom occupancy limitations on a rate of one occupant per 50 square feet and requires short-term rentals built after the bill goes into effect to provide one additional off-street parking space.
Several Ocean Pines residents used the public hearing to voice their frustration with short-term rentals. Pines resident Thomas Ligis said a three-bedroom home in his neighborhood was advertised to sleep 12 people.
“They show up with eight cars and two boats,” he said.
Carol Garey said her Canal Road home was surrounded by four short-term rentals.
“The best word I can describe it is hell …,” she said. “You can’t even hear yourself speak.”
Ocean Pines Association President Doug Parks asked the commissioners to support the bill being considered.
“I would urge the commissioners and encourage them to support Bill 19-3, not with regard to restrictions but with regard to controls,” he said. “Clearly, the objective obviously from my perspective is not to limit or eliminate rentals but to put it in perspective with regard to the fact that you’re in a community that has surrounding properties that may need to have a reasonable place to live … We’ve had increases in complaints with regard to noise, with regard to parking, and with regard to occupancy limits.”
He said he hoped the bill would address those issues.
“We’d be very much interested in enforcement,” Parks said. “Enforcement would be either administratively cumbersome or financially problematic. We want to make sure we got some guidance from the county on how to address issues when they come up from the folks in Ocean Pines.”
Pines resident Joe Reynolds said the proposed bill wouldn’t help with parking problems in Ocean Pines because the community was essentially fully developed and wouldn’t see much new construction.
“What’s at issue here is the rights and privileges of homeowners,” he said.
He said the proposed legislation would make the problem worse in Ocean Pines, particularly since a home with large bedrooms could house as many as 25 people. He said that the array of short-term rentals in Ocean Pines could also be reducing the income generated by hotels in Ocean City.
Resident Jack Barnes said he’d seen parking, trash and noise problems in Ocean Pines as a result of short-term rentals. He said that with the changes being made to Airbnb, he expected even more rentals to pop up.
“I’m afraid what we’re seeing is the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said whatever legislation the county implemented wouldn’t make everyone happy.
“What we’re trying to do is make things better,” he said. “This may be a bill that evolves.”
Bunting said he was not willing to support it as written. He pointed out that the health, safety and welfare of neighborhoods were being affected by short-term rentals. He suggested that rentals housing multiple families should be sprinklered, as multifamily homes are supposed to feature sprinklers, and said short-term rentals housing 12 or 15 people were putting a strain on water and sewer infrastructure.
Bertino said he didn’t think the legislation addressed the concerns brought up by Pines residents during the hearing.
“It’s a problem when people can’t go about their daily lives and enjoy their homes,” he said.
Commissioner Ted Elder said he thought the whole short-term rental issue was an Ocean Pines problem.
“I wouldn’t mind seeing short-term rentals eliminated altogether,” he said, drawing applause from many in the audience.
He said he didn’t think the proposed legislation went far enough.
“I will vote for it as a start,” he said. “Anything’s better than nothing.”
“Right now there’s no law at all,” he said. “I don’t see how this doesn’t make it better.”
Commissioner Diana Purnell said staff had addressed the issues the commissioners had identified with the bill when it was initially proposed.
“Walking into the 21st century is going to be extremely hard throughout the country,” she said, adding that people were always going to push the boundaries on what was permitted. “This is a start. This is a solid, in place start. “