Pines Planning To Propose Short-Term Rental Declaration Amendments

OCEAN PINES – As association officials continue to work on short-term rental regulations, an attorney for one Ocean Pines property owner says his client is hoping their concerns will be addressed without litigation.

In late March, attorney Steve Rakow penned a cease and desist letter to the association’s legal counsel on behalf of his client – a property owner who operates a short-term rental in Ocean Pines. The missive, addressed to Ocean Pines Association (OPA) attorneys Joe Moore and Jeremy Tucker, called on the board to halt its attempt to impose short-term rental regulations.

“I represent a homeowner in Section 10 of the Ocean Pines Association,” the letter reads. “While my client would like to remain anonymous for the time being, my client is prepared to pursue a declaratory judgment action and seek injunctive relief should OPA impose any restrictions on short-term rentals affecting my client.”

Now, as the association revisits its proposed regulations, Rakow says he and his client are hoping the ongoing issue will reach a resolution.

“My client will wait to see what transpires and hopefully this will be resolved without litigation because it would be (1) illegal to take the action OPA was proposing and (2) it appears that OPA wants to work with the landlords who conduct short-term rentals,” he said in a statement late last week.

Following an outpouring of comments last month, OPA Board Director Frank Daly withdrew his motion to approve proposed short-term rental regulations. Instead, the board agreed to host a town hall meeting on April 17.

Late last week, however, President Larry Perrone announced the board’s decision to cancel the town hall in light of recent conversations with community stakeholders.

“Frank Daly is withdrawing his motions after consultation with all the stakeholders,” a statement reads. “Frank will continue to work on the guidelines and will propose amending our documents, section by section. We believe this approach will give the entire community the power to make the decision on this crucial issue.”

In an interview this week, Daly – a member of the work group tasked with developing short-term rental guidelines – said the threat of potential litigation had “minimal influence” on the board’s decision to revisit the proposed regulations.

“It is true that a resident hired an attorney, and it is true that their attorney contacted our attorney, and it is true that we could have resolved these issues,” he said. “It wasn’t a big deal to us. This certainly could have been resolved in a matter of 15 minutes.”

Daly said OPA attorneys are now working to draft amendments to the association’s Declaration of Restrictions that achieve the work group’s objectives and address the community’s concerns.

“Our mission was to create regulations that were no more restrictive than what Worcester County has on the books …,” Daly said. “The only exception we wanted to address, above and beyond that, was trash and parking. We did that. The second part was to provide a fast and effective method to enforce regulations.”

Daly explained the proposed amendments would be presented to the board and general manager and introduced at an upcoming board meeting in separate motions.

“Whether you are for or against it you will have an opportunity to comment,” he added.

Last year, an Ocean Pines work group began meeting with community stakeholders to draft proposed changes to the association’s architectural guidelines on short-term rental properties. According to association officials, there are roughly 180 short-term rentals in Ocean Pines. They noted, however, ongoing issues at three or four properties prompted the association to tighten controls on the short-term rentals.

As initially proposed, the rental regulations would require single-family residences rented for 28 days or less to have both a Worcester County rental permit and Ocean Pines rental permit and sticker. It also sets requirements for annual inspections, maximum occupancy, safety improvements, and off-street parking, among other things. Rental permits will be withdrawn for a period of one year if residences do not comply.

Since the proposed regulations were introduced late last month, however, one Ocean Pines homeowner has hired Rakow to fight the association’s proposed restrictions. In a letter to The Dispatch, the anonymous homeowner said the prohibition of bed and breakfast operations, additional permitting fees and annual property inspections were overreaching and added costs that could shut down some short-term rentals.

“I hope that the OPA Board knows that hundreds (if not more) of us are watching this closely and this is a very important matter,” the letter reads. “It would be beneficial if they take the time to look at this from all sides and mitigate any long-term consequences they aren’t thinking about.”

In an interview this month, Rakow said his client operates a rental in Ocean Pines and is licensed through Worcester County. He argued the county’s permitting process already provided enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance.

“There are other mechanisms, between simple and incredible penalties, to get people to comply that are effective,” he said, “and I think those need to be given a chance to work.”

Rakow also argued the short-term rental regulations should not be enacted through the association’s Architectural Review Committee guidelines, but through an amendment of the declarations.

“There are no restrictions on rentals within the Declarations,” he wrote to the association’s attorneys. “What OPA proposes to do through ARC Guidelines for short-term rentals exceeds OPA’s authority. Use restrictions and rules passed by a homeowners association board of directors, unlike express restrictions found in the plain language of the Declarations, must be reasonable and are not give a presumption of validity. The proposed rules by OPA are wholly unreasonable – especially when viewed in the light of the county code requirements and restrictions already in place. As such, it would be bad faith on the part of the OPA Board to impose rental restrictions not found in the Declarations.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.