After not being allowed for years, short-term rentals such as Airbnbs could soon be operating in Bangor under a set of proposed rules drafted by city staff.
The proposed rules aim to allow Bangor residents to have a short-term rental as an additional source of income while preserving the city’s limited permanent housing, according to Anne Krieg, Bangor’s community and economic development director.
Currently, Bangor does not have a policy on short-term rentals, which means they aren’t allowed anywhere in the city, Krieg said. However, Airbnb, a popular website that allows hosts to list their short-term rental properties and schedule guests, shows well over 100 apartments, homes and single rooms available for rent in Bangor.
City staff have been tracking existing short-term rentals in Bangor and watching them multiply, Krieg said, but the number of rentals haven’t yet become problematic or influenced the area’s housing market.
By creating a set of rules for short-term rentals, Bangor is attempting to get ahead of potential problems many of Maine’s coastal tourist destinations, from Portland to Bar Harbor, have faced in recent years. Those challenges usually center around short-term rentals cutting into a community’s housing stock and raising rent and purchase costs, which have grown increasingly unaffordable in recent years.
The idea to create a policy to govern short-term rentals came from a housing workgroup the city put together in 2019 to brainstorm how to bolster the city’s housing stock, which remains a problem four years later.
After gathering feedback from the public through surveys and workshops, Krieg said some residents want to offer short-term rentals as an additional source of income, but others are concerned short-term rentals take away viable long-term housing from those who need it.
Aside from being an additional source of income for Bangor residents, especially those who need it to pay their mortgage and stay in their homes, Krieg said allowing people to stay in a historic home or downtown apartment helps showcase the city to visitors.
In its proposed rules, the city defines a short-term rental as renting up to two bedrooms or an entire dwelling unit, such as an apartment, for fewer than 28 days. An accessory dwelling unit, such as an in-law apartment, could also be considered a short-term rental, Kreig said.
Other businesses like hotels, motels, inns, bed-and-breakfasts and boarding houses would not be subjected to the city’s rules. Limiting the rental length to 28 days also excludes any housing that gets rented to temporary workers, like traveling nurses or construction workers.
The city’s proposed rules differentiate between hosted and non-hosted short-term rentals.
Hosted rentals indicate the property that’s being rented is the property owner or operator’s primary residence. An example would be someone who rents a room in a home, or an accessory dwelling unit when the owner lives in the attached home.
Non-hosted rental means the unit being rented isn’t the primary residence of the owner or operator. This could include an entire apartment that’s available for rent, but the owner does not live there.
According to the draft rules, non-hosted rentals would be allowed in the city’s downtown and waterfront districts. Hosted rentals, meanwhile, would be allowed in all residential neighborhoods and some commercial areas.
Regardless of whether a short-term rental is hosted or non-hosted, all rentals will need to acquire a license from the city and be inspected, Krieg said. The license will need to be renewed annually, and an inspection must be completed every three years, the draft rules stipulate.
The license will also have a fee, Krieg said, though the city hasn’t yet determined what that will be.
A license and inspection requirement allows the city to build a registry of the short-term rentals and ensure they’re safe and clean, Krieg said. A registry also gives the city data on the rental owners in the event of an emergency.
The city is also proposing capping how many short-term rentals can be in a property, if it’s owned by one person, at 50 percent to preserve permanent housing. This means if a person buys a building with four apartments, only two can become short-term rentals.
After the city adopts rules for short-term rentals, staff will allow a six-month grace period for people to comply with the law.
A copy of the city’s proposed law for short-term rentals is available on the city’s website. City staff will hold another workshop on the proposed rules during the planning board meeting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 1.
Next, city staff will take public feedback under consideration and draft a final ordinance, which will appear before the planning board and city council for final approval in September.