Like many other places across the country, Berlin is considering creating its own set of regulations in response to a recent surge in short-term rentals. A potential ordinance was drafted two years ago and discussed. Efforts to take a deep dive on the issue stalled during the pandemic. The same concerns heard about the proposed changes in 2019 exist today.
Berlin does not have a major problem with short-term rentals. A quick look at Airbnb confirms they exist. How many there are varies by season, but a look this week shows there are about 15 in town limits. All town officials seem to agree there have not been a significant amount of complaints about noise and overcrowding, but a few council members have reported hearing concerns from property owners who do not want to live next to a rental house with occupants rotating every few days. These are understandable concerns and not unlike many expressed elsewhere.
The current proposal on the table and discussed this week by Berlin’s elected officials is a good starting point for the conversation. However, it’s far too strict and will overly limit short-term rentals. It stops short of banning the rentals, but it’s close because of one clause.
Short-term rentals would be permitted in single family residential districts (R-1 and R-2) so long as they are within a property owner’s permanent residence. The property owner must reside at the house or unit for at least six months a year to rent it. It would eliminate out-of-town property owners from renting their houses, even if there is a contact living in the area to respond to concerns. It would mean the home owned by a West Ocean City couple and rented and managed diligently could no longer be.
The ordinance under draft review is far too sweeping. It was not favored by the council at that time and appeared to divide the new council when it was discussed this week. The consensus seems to be it’s too extreme.
Berlin needs to look no further than Ocean Pines for possible guidance on the matter. A much higher volume of short-term rentals exists in Ocean Pines than Berlin, resulting in officials there convening a committee to study the matter extensively. After much deliberation, Ocean Pines officials decided last month to simply incorporate Worcester County’s code on short-term rentals, litter and noise into the homeowner’s association’s Declaration of Restrictions. The action allows Ocean Pines to enforce and fine property owners who violate the code.
The county created a rental license program for unincorporated areas and a new $200 annual fee in 2019. It codified many of the issues Berlin is looking to address with its own regulations. Berlin should require a license to be on premises and follow the county’s rules. This would bring some structure to short-term rentals in Berlin and allow the town to have contacts at the individual properties in the event police or town officials field concerns.