According to materials provided to the town last year by Host Compliance, Bar Harbor has 707 vacation rental listings, representing 571 unique units. At the end of last year, 528 were registered with the town.

New no-host rentals may be halted

BAR HARBOR — Property owners hoping to begin renting to vacationers this summer may be out of luck, depending on the outcome of a Town Council vote tomorrow.

Citing a nearly threefold increase in applications for new vacation rental permits in the town between 2017 and 2018, and feedback from the public, Town Planner Michele Gagnon proposed an emergency moratorium on new, non-hosted vacation rentals.

The rise in non-hosted vacation rentals, Gagnon wrote in a memo to the council, has “result[ed] in the loss of affordable housing, negative impacts to adjacent properties, constant turnovers in the high season and dark vacant homes in the low season.”

A moratorium would “provide the council a chance to figure out what is in the best interest of the community,” she wrote.

If approved, the 60-day emergency moratorium will be effective immediately. Emergency ordinances may be adopted by majority vote of the town council “to meet a public emergency affecting life, health, property or public peace,” according to the town charter.

According to Gagnon, the moratorium would still allow the “operation of all registered vacation rentals for both hosted and non-hosted, including registration renewals.” It specifically “aims to halt the operation of non-hosted and non-registered vacation rentals.”

This means previously unregistered vacation rentals wherein the owner does not live on the property. The moratorium would affect pending applications of previously unregistered properties.

The town’s Planning and Code Enforcement Office issued 528 vacation rental registrations between 2010 and 2018, Gagnon wrote in the memo. Between 2017 and 2018, the office saw a 295 percent increase in the number of new registrations, jumping from 20 to 79.

“We expect to exceed this number in 2019,” Gagnon wrote. “The increase in vacation rentals is taking away affordable houses from the supply of year-round rental housing, putting pressure on housing costs.”

According to the Maine State Housing Authority, the median home price in Bar Harbor was $317,000 in 2018, for which a buyer would need an annual income of $91,000. “However,” Gagnon wrote in the memo, “the Bar Harbor median income [in 2018] was $53,000 … Over 81 percent of households are unable to afford a median home.”

In addition to real estate prices being out of reach, Gagnon wrote, the “rise in short-term vacation rentals continues to constrict the supply of year-round rental housing,” contributing to an overall “affordable housing crisis.”

She did list other factors not related to vacation rentals, such as the high area-per-family requirements in the Land Use Ordinance, and the limited amount of town land surrounded by park land, which she wrote was 43.6 square miles, including wetlands.

Council Chair Gary Friedmann said though there is not a scheduled public hearing on the emergency ordinance, he expects the council will hear public comment during its discussion.

“My practice is to take public comment,” Friedmann said, after an overview and council discussion on the subject. “Then the council would take a vote after that.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story contained an error. Between 2017 and 2018, the town saw a 297 percent increase in applications for new vacation rental permits, not a 297 percent increase in the number of vacation rentals in the town.

Becky Pritchard
Former Islander reporter Becky Pritchard covered the town of Bar Harbor and was a park ranger in Acadia for six seasons.
Becky Pritchard

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