Fenwick Committee Talks Residential Rental Policy

FENWICK ISLAND – Officials agreed not to pursue ordinance changes as the town explores a residential rental policy.

Last week, the Fenwick Island Charter and Ordinance Committee voted unanimously to forward a recommendation that the town council not pursue ordinance changes related to residential rentals. Instead, the committee agreed new language could be added to the existing rental license application.

“I don’t know that this is a charter and ordinance issue at this point,” said Mayor Natalie Magdeburger, committee chair. “I think it’s going to be more of a council and office staff kind of issue. But I do like the idea of changing the form.”

Last year, members of the town’s residential concerns committee began exploring a rental policy that would establish regulations aimed at protecting town residents. And last December, the Fenwick Island Town Council agreed to forward the group’s suggestions to the town’s charter and ordinance committee for review.

As part of that discussion, the charter and ordinance committee last week invited representatives with Granicus, a government services platform that offers rental compliance services, to talk with officials. Granicus’ Jeffrey Goodman said the company helps roughly 800 communities create and enforce short- and long-term rental regulations.

“I like to say we do everything, soup to nuts,” he said.

Goodman told committee members that Granicus not only helped towns draft rental policies, but also ensured compliance. He said the company monitored rental platforms – including Airbnb and Vrbo – issued violation letters, collected complaints and offered a tax collection portal, among other things.

“Our philosophy is to meet you where your needs are,” he said, “and not everyone needs every sort of thing.”

When asked what the company charged to offer such services, Goodman said it was based on the number of listings and types of services provided to the town.

“We have found that between better tax compliance and better fees coming in, and reducing the kind of manpower it takes to run that system, that I think pretty much everywhere that we’ve contracted with has seen a positive return,” he replied.

Magdeburger, however, questioned if such services were needed in Fenwick, as less than 200 of the 800 homes were rented. She asked Goodman to generate a cost estimate for the town.

“I’ll talk to someone who can get together a nice packet or something for you to be able to have that on paper,” Goodman replied, “something like a quote.”

In terms of a rental policy, Magdeburger said the residential concerns committee had recommended that renters acknowledge the town’s regulations and agree to pay all taxes and assessments, ensure the property meets all building, health and safety codes, comply with overnight occupancy restrictions and noise ordinances, and more.

Committee member Ben Waide said most of the recommendations were already found in the town code. He said their concerns would be better addressed in the town’s rental license application.

“My recommendation is that instead of putting in a totally freestanding rental code with a separate enforcement authority, that we simply go in and change one form that we currently have to reinforce some of these issues that the residential concerns committee voiced.”

Magdeburger agreed. She added that the town’s regulations could also be added in the guide book the town distributed to renters and their guests.

“I think we can coordinate that,” she said. “But I’m not sure that it’s a charter and ordinance project.”

Committee member Ann Riley questioned how the town handled rental violations. Town Manager Pat Schuchman said the town issued a written notice to the property owner.

“If three of these occur in one year, we can suspend or revoke your license right then and there or not issue you a license next year,” she said. “That doesn’t happen all that often.”

Magdeburger said town staff could simply rewrite the rental application form to reference the town’s regulations. Committee member John Nason also recommended the town add indemnity language.

“It would be nice to put language in the town agreement that says the property owner gives a broad form indemnification of the town against any and all claims made by the renter or the tenant,” he said.

Nason also questioned if the town had a problem with unlicensed renters, Schuchman said staff were fairly knowledge on existing rental properties. To that end, she questioned the town’s need to hire a rental management company such as Granicus.

“It’s going to cost us to find the few who are not getting a license,” she said.

After further discussion, the committee agreed to share its findings with the town council and recommend no ordinance changes. The committee, however, agreed to add new language to the town’s rental license form outlining the town’s requirements.

“There was really nothing in the recommendations that required a charter and ordinance change,” Waide said.

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.