Short-Term Rental Ordinance Introduced In Berlin

Short-Term Rental Ordinance Introduced In Berlin
Pictured is map of Berlin properties available for short-term rental on the Airbnb website.

BERLIN– Elected officials introduced an ordinance regulating short-term rentals this week.

On Monday, the Berlin Town Council held a first reading of an ordinance that establishes regulations governing short-term rentals. The ordinance, which will be the subject of a public hearing March 28, is the result of several work sessions.

“I think it’s a little clearer than it was in previous drafts,” Planning Director Dave Engelhart said.

Engelhart told the council he’d worked with Mayor Zack Tyndall, the town attorney and the town administrator to simplify the ordinance following the last work session. As proposed, the ordinance allows short-term rentals in all residential zoning districts and in the B-1, B-2 and B-3 business zoning districts.

“In those business districts it is possible to have dwelling units on the upper floors,” he said.

The ordinance sets an initial application fee of $350 as well as an annual renewal fee of $125. He said the application fee was set at $350 to allow for the cost of the inspections associated with setting up a rental.

“It’s basically all our initial legwork,” Engelhart said. “Our paperwork, our inspections, are the major thing. We have to pay someone to do those for us.”

Short-term rentals will be required to have a responsible agent available for contact 24 hours a day. That agent has to be located with a 30-mile radius of town.

As for parking, the ordinance requires one additional space for each bedroom rented.

Councilman Jay Knerr said he’d checked one of the online rental platforms and found 26 properties available for short-term rentals in Berlin. He pointed out that several of them offered long-term rental of the spaces as well.

“Who’s going to regulate that?” he said.

Engelhart said if a property was being rented on a long-term basis it would be covered by the town’s existing rental license program. He stressed, as he has in the past, that enforcement of rental ordinances would be complaint driven.

“I certainly am not going to snoop in backyards at 12 o’clock on a Saturday,” he said.

Knerr said the language in the initial draft of the town’s short-term rental regulations required that short-term rentals in the R-1 and R-2 district be an owner’s primary residence per state records.

“That was removed,” he said. “Can we talk about that? Is that something we want to retain?”

Engelhart said that had been removed as a result of the public comments at the town’s last work session on the ordinance.

“There were people here who had said that if they did that they couldn’t afford to have the home in Berlin and use it part of the time, and that the short-term rental actually gave them the ability to own a home in Berlin,” he said.

Councilwoman Shaneka Nichols said that while citizens in attendance had shared comments along those lines, those who had emailed the town supported the primary residence requirement.

“My question to you is the validity of having the emails if we’re going to take into consideration just those that are present,” she said.

Tyndall said the draft had been changed to reflect themes from the discussion.

“The ordinance was amended to reflect some of the discussion items,” he said. “The council, it appeared during the dialogue, was divided. Some were for allowing people to own or not own and still have a short-term rental whereas some felt that was a necessity.”

He said the ordinance could be amended again following the public hearing March 28.

Nichols said she wanted to make sure residents who contacted their officials via email were given the same consideration as those who attended meetings to speak.

“It’s not just that either,” Tyndall replied. “I think that part of the work that we do is, doing research on things that may work in other areas and also gauging that with the people we engage with every day. When we’re in the supermarket, when we’re out walking, what do people say to us as representatives. It’s also weighting what’s said during the public hearing, emails and things of that nature that come in, but I don’t think any particular one makes up the whole of the decision.”

Nichols acknowledged that but said she still didn’t agree with the change to the ordinance.

“After the public hearing you can propose amendments to this,” said Dave Gaskill, the town’s attorney. “If you’re not satisfied you can vote against it.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.