Bangor has taken a step toward regulating short-term rentals like those offered on Airbnb or VRBO, after a study found 87 such rentals operating in the city — technically illegally, since the city does not presently have code that allows for them.
At their respective meetings on Tuesday evening, Bangor’s business and economic development committee and planning board both recommended the city planning office draft language regulating short-term rentals, defined as properties rented for 30 days or less.
A study completed last year by the consulting firm Granicus found 87 short-term rentals in Bangor, the majority of which were downtown or in adjacent neighborhoods. That came as a bit of a surprise to Bangor Planning Officer Anne Krieg, who thought most of them would be found in strictly residential areas.
“It presents a bit of a quandary for us, because we want to have tourist visitation in downtown, and we want those people to shop and dine downtown,” Krieg said. “But we also want people to live downtown. That’s the issue at hand.”
Bangor is one of a number of Maine communities grappling with short-term rentals as it tries to encourage both tourism and affordable housing. Some of Maine’s busy tourist hubs, in particular, have regulated short-term rentals as they have struggled to maintain a stock of affordable housing for long-term residents as property owners have decided to transform their units into lucrative vacation rentals.
Krieg said that a lack of hotel room space downtown likely contributed to the growth of short-term rentals there. Bangor also supports a number of itinerant workers, particularly in the health care and construction industries, who may only come to town for a few weeks and don’t need to rent a regular apartment.
The study found that of those rentals, they were evenly split between multi-unit properties and single-family homes. Seventy-seven percent of those rentals were for one week or less, and 94 percent were for less than 30 days. Some 56 percent of rentals were for a one-bedroom apartment or home and 21 percent were for two-bedroom units.
The study also found that, of the people surveyed, which included both owners of short-term rentals and the general public, most were comfortable with the idea of registering short-term rentals, as well as potentially having them inspected, a requirement that already exists for hotels and bed and breakfasts.
A number of cities across Maine already regulate short-term rentals, including Portland and Bar Harbor. Those places, with a heavy seasonal tourism industry, for several years saw many property owners opt to put their apartments or houses on sites like Airbnb, rather than rent them out to long-term tenants. That contributed to a decrease in the amount of housing available to long-term renters, and also to skyrocketing rents, as the rate of return on a short-term rental is usually higher than a long-term rental.
According to Portland, which began regulating short-term rentals in 2018, that has resulted in a dramatic decrease in complaints about short-term rentals from residents.
“I think we luckily are not in the situation that some coastal communities are in, because we haven’t seen that mass proliferation of short-term rentals,” Krieg said. “That’s why we really need to regulate this, so we can have a plan in place should that happen. We need to be prepared for it.”
Bangor first took up short-term rentals in early 2021, after a workgroup recommended it look at the issue to help create more affordable housing in the city. With little data to draw on, however, the city commissioned the Granicus study. Now Krieg believes it’s time to finally put a plan in place.
“I think people just want some guidance, really, on how we treat these rentals, especially since technically, right now, they are not actually allowed,” Krieg said.