Berlin Officials Approve Updated Short-Term Rental Ordinance

Berlin Officials Approve Updated Short-Term Rental Ordinance
Councilman Jay Knerr, center, asks a question about the updated language up for approval Monday. Photo by Charlene Sharpe

BERLIN – Town officials approved a new short-term rental ordinance after an error was identified in the initial version.

While the Berlin Town Council approved a short-term rental ordinance this spring, officials approved a new version this week to correct language mistakenly included in the initial version.

“It’s basically a text amendment,” said Dave Engelhart, the town’s planning director. “A correction to Ordinance 2022-06 which was put into place by the council in March of 2022.”

When the council approved the short-term rental ordinance earlier this year, language permitting short-term rentals in permanent residences in all districts was included. The council only meant to ensure that short-term rentals in the R-1 and R-2 single family home districts were in permanent residences.

To fix the language, the council had to introduce a new version of the short-term rental ordinance. During a public hearing on the latest ordinance Monday, property owners in attendance took the opportunity to again share their opinions regarding short-term rental regulations. While some residents said they wanted to see even stricter regulations, others in attendance said they only way they could afford their second homes in Berlin was to rent them short-term.

Resident Woody Bunting said there’d been a lot of discussion about an owner-occupied provision early on in short-term rental talks. In the ordinance subsequently approved however, and in the one under consideration this week, there’s not an owner-occupied provision but rather a permanent residence provision. In the R-1 and R-2 districts, homes can be used for short-term rentals as long as they’re the homeowner’s primary residence per state records.

Bunting said an owner-occupied provision would be more effective.

“You’re not protecting these districts,” he said. “Right now you’re opening it up to more rentals.”

During a council meeting Sept. 6 on the ordinance’s first reading, Councilman Jay Knerr questioned whether the council’s true intent with the ordinance came through in the finished product.

“In the entire time we were discussing this ordinance, the words that were being thrown around were ‘owner occupied.’ That came up constantly and that was the desire of the council. That’s what we wanted. The way this ordinance reads is in R-1 and R-2 it has to be your permanent residence,” Knerr said. “… to me the intent was the owner had to be present in the property when there was a tenant. Otherwise, you haven’t done anything, and you can rent your place to whoever. … I believe there should be language in here to tighten it up, to say it needs to be owner occupied. I think we missed that. The discussion all along was owner occupied. That means if I am owning the property I need to be there when it’s being rented.”

Planning Director Dave Engelhart said his intent with the ordinance – one he thought was shared by the majority of the council – was to draft an ordinance to prevent real estate companies from buying blocks of residences in town and putting in short-term rentals.

“The idea of the permanent residence restriction in the R-1 and the R-2 was that we protect those neighborhoods where we don’t have your house, your neighbor’s house and the third house … bought up by a real estate investment company just to have short-term rentals. The way to ensure that was to have the 180-day restriction with the state … the other idea was there are a lot of people, a lot of them older people, who spend time in Florida … in order to make it possible for them to keep their home in Berlin – which they want to do – they want to be able to rent it on a short-term rental or someone who never leaves the town the ability to rent a bedroom or two in their home… that was to my recollection the way the discussions went and the vote.”

During Monday night’s meeting, Kristin and Devon Potler said they lived in the Baltimore area but owned a home on Old Ocean City Boulevard that they’d upgraded after it sat vacant for years.

“We sunk well over $200,000 in this property, now it’s going to be ripped away from us,” Devon Potler said.

They said they hoped to see some leniency or a way for existing short-term rentals to be grandfathered in to ease the financial impact.

Another longtime resident, however, said she didn’t buy her home here to have transient neighbors. She said if someone wanted a way to afford a second home in Berlin they could offer it as a regular year-round rental.

Councilman Jay Knerr said he’d heard that if a home was owned by an LLC, as many short-term rentals were, it could not be listed with the state as a permanent residence. Potler said in his family’s case, they’d have to dissolve their business.

Councilwoman Shaneka Nichols, who is an educator, said there were numerous teachers at her school who couldn’t afford to live in Berlin. Instead they drive to work every day 30 minutes or more. She said there was definitely a market for long-term rentals in town.

“There are people here that would rent your home tonight,” she said.

Cam Bunting, a local real estate broker, added that the Potlers could rent for other periods as well, such as three months.

“Then you’re not a short-term rental,” she said. “That is an option for you.”

The council voted unanimously to approve the updated short-term rental ordinance.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

Alternative Text

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.