Rental License Program Needed

There should be regulations overseeing rentals in unincorporated areas of Worcester County. Heading into this week’s vote, the main concerns were how much to charge for the licenses and how the rules will be monitored and enforced.

Prior to this week, the ordinance before the commissioners called for an annual license fee for short-term rentals (Airbnb) and bed and breakfast operations of $400 per unit. Simple year-round rental properties would require a $100 license. The fees were proposed as a means to fund the program, which county staff said would require a new licensing program and two new employees — one to handle licensing paperwork and another to focus on enforcement and compliance.

At this week’s meeting, acknowledging hundreds of communications received against the initial proposal, the Worcester County Commissioners approved in a 4-2 vote a reduced fee program — a $200 short-term rental fee, a $200 mobile home park fee and a simple $50 charge for any property owner renting a property on a year-round basis.

Due to the lower revenue figure expected to be derived from the reduced fees, the council will only hire one additional employee to manage the new license program.

An immediate concern is how the new program will be enforced. It’s going to be a challenge for the county to track all rented properties in unincorporated areas. Following a proactive education phase for all property owners in the county, there must be mechanisms put in place to ensure compliance. This will largely be a grassroots effort, tracking online real estate company sites as well as newspapers for listed rentals.

In recent months, as the issue was reviewed, many property owners have argued the county’s position is to merely find a new revenue stream by taxing rentals. We maintain that’s an unfair criticism because the county’s collected fee will more than likely not offset the expense needed to create this new license system in the first few years. Enforcement will be critical.

Despite the heat elected officials took on the issue, the easiest part for the county will be creating the program. Once in its place, the difficult work will begin to ensure it’s not a huge loss leader for the budget. If it’s maintained and enforced properly, the county should be able to afford the program with the new fees offsetting the expense of hiring a full-time person. It’s not going to be easy, however.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.