ROCKLAND — The Rockland City Council March 23 tackled the transient housing issue during a workshop in council chambers at City Hall. The workshop was based on letters received, both pro and con, and touched on issues of safety, parking, number of lodging nights and respect for neighbors.
As they went through the list, councilors asked residents in attendance for comments and feedback. Those who attended the workshop were free with both.
The idea of an ordinance governing the rental of rooms in private homes — or even entire homes — on a short-term basis (predominantly one to seven nights) has emerged in municipalities across the country, and world, following the success of websites such as airbnb.com. Such sites connect those seeking lodging with homeowners who want to earn extra income by renting rooms and apartments for a night or longer. The enterprise has proven popular, and operates as a separate and independent business stream outside the conventional categories of hotels, inns, motels and B&Bs, all of which are regulated and licensed.
Rockland Code Enforcement Officer John Root said it is not the city’s intent to undermine the use of this service.
Councilor Louise MacLellan-Ruf stated at the beginning of the March 23 meeting that the Council would not be producing answers, or voting on measures. The information taken would all be put together in a summary to give councilors a better direction by which the ordinance crafting would go.
Justin Ford, owner of On the Water in Maine–Waterfront Vacation Rentals, cautioned councilors not to put rules in place that the city could not enforce.
Cheryl Michaelsen, co-owner of the Berry Manor Inn in Rockland, was at the meeting representing the Historic Inns of Rockland.
“Whether you rent and apartment in your house, one room in your house, or your entire house, you’re in the lodging business,” she said. “It is a business in a home.”
MacLellan-Ruf said there is a need for uniform ordinances.
Councilor Valli Geiger said there is a long history of renting homes in Maine.
“I in no way want to interfere with that,” she said. “I need to be convinced that there is something happening that is fundamentally different than what has been happening in the last 100 years in Maine to require regulation. I am comfortable with asking owners to fill out a permit and to attest that they have two workable exits, that they have hardwired smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. I’m really not interested in fundamentally changing people’s relationships with their own homes, relationships that may have existed for a long time.”
Joan Wright, Rockland resident, said she was pleased with what transpired and the way the council handled it.
“It’s the first time there has been a free flow exchange between the council members and residents who have come in to talk about and learn about an issue they are concerned with,” she said. “This, I think, is a really important one that affects the cohesiveness of the community. I thought it was a great step forward.”