Though they have been already for some time, short-term rentals will be big news in the weeks and months ahead in Worcester County.
According to the most recent data released by Airbnb, the company brought in $1.5 million in host income from Worcester County based on 10,800 visitors. This data, which will surely be higher in 2019, is at least partially why Worcester County is moving toward implementing a rental license program, which could result in the county needing to hire two new employees. One employee would be needed to handle license applications and renewals while the other would be needed for education and enforcement, including checking newspapers and online outlets to ensure compliance.
Though nobody in the real estate industry seems to like the idea of a county license for rentals, the $400 annual fee for a short-term license has resulted in the County Commissioners getting reportedly getting hammered with calls and emails of concerns. In an email to the media last week, Coastal Association of REALTORS Government and Public Affairs Director Sarah Rayne expressed concern over the fee when compared to other locales. She wrote, “Ocean City’s residential rental licensing fee (for a rental of any period of time) is $191, and Salisbury’s is $120. Wicomico and Somerset do not have rental licensing programs. But on the Western Shore, Montgomery County’s fee is $114 and Prince George’s County’s fee is $150 for short term rentals specifically, etc. It is an exorbitant, unjustified cost, that will no doubt be passed along to consumers, in addition to the room tax that was recently increased.”
The fee schedule was expected to be reviewed by the commissioners last week, but it was delayed because Commissioner Bud Church was absent. Church’s West Ocean City district will impacted heavily by this change. It’s important to note the rental fee would only apply to rental properties in unincorporated areas of Worcester County.
Meanwhile, over in Berlin, which has a low $10 annual fee for a rental license per unit, planning officials are currently working with the town’s elected officials on legislation banning short-term rentals in town. A quick glance at Airbnb reveals only a few options within town limits, ranging from single-family homes to apartments, but a look in July showed there were a couple dozen locations back then. For many years, the town has looked the other way with rentals in single-family neighborhoods. The position has been to let the non-conforming properties continue with their rentals for the time being until the usage changes. Once the property changes hands or rentals cease, the town plans to bring the hammer down. This will be a major issue for Town Hall, as officials seem intent on preserving their residential neighborhoods and keeping rentals in check.
The impact of ride share companies like Uber and Lyft on local cabbies is tremendous. It’s impossible to quantify on a broad scale, but it’s clearly hurt the taxi industry. It has also an unquantifiable impact on the city’s bus system. This week the Ocean City Transportation Committee heard an update from Ocean City Public Works Director Hal Adkins on the latter that touched on the taxi impact as well.
Much of the conversation based on the nature of the meeting was about the ride sharing industry’s impact on the municipal bus system. Adkins went about the unenviable task of trying to quantify how many people used companies like Uber in Ocean City. Using the 25-cent per transaction number the city receives from the ride share companies, Adkins hypothesized.
“That 25-cent reimbursement the town receives is per trip. It has nothing to do with the number of people being transported,” he said. “What’s the average number of riders? I know it’s not one. In my opinion, the average is probably close to three, but what’s a good number? If we use three, for example, that’s over 841,000 riders based on our assumption and based on the revenue that was returned to the city. … We know Uber and Lyft have impacted our bus ridership, although the extent to which is not known, but what about our cab industry. It would be a fair statement that for years, this town didn’t have cabs. … the appearance of Uber and Lyft has decimated the taxi cab industry here. … I’m not saying those 800,000-plus estimated riders would have used our buses. What I am saying is that it has definitely eroded our ridership.”
It’s been interesting to continue to track the start dates Maryland school systems are selecting. Last week Baltimore County went with starting after Labor Day. Baltimore City this week announced an intention to return the week before Labor Day, while Carroll County plans to continue to open the day after Labor Day, Sept. 8. The lateness of the 2021 date has not been lost on officials.
“This is the toughest year. If we can make it work this year, it gets easier from here,” Board President Donna Sivigny said, according to The Baltimore Sun. “This is an issue we’ve been struggling with and having significant conversations on.”
As far as Baltimore City, the school system plans to open Aug. 31. Officials said the decision was made because it’s best for families, pointing to the burden the post-Labor Day start put on families from a day care perspective as well as the further extension of the summer drain.