Letter to Editor: Careful with rental rules

To the Editor:

In his op-ed “Tackle Bar Harbor’s housing crisis” (Aug. 8 issue), Gary Friedmann writes: “Cease new permits for non-hosted, short term vacation rentals. We know that many local families rely on Airbnb-type revenue to be able to afford to live here. But out-of-town investors have discovered that they can buy up multiple dwellings in almost every zone to rent by the night. Let’s put an end to this neighborhood-busting practice before the 2020 season begins.”

I agree that the prospect of investors buying up multiple properties and using them for short-term rentals is undesirable, and well-thought-out changes to the zoning regulations may be appropriate to limit or bar this practice. But Mr. Friedmann’s approach, at least as reflected by the aborted effort last spring to bar all non-hosted vacation rentals, is overkill, because it unfairly ensnares homeowners under at least two scenarios:

First, Bar Harbor has an over 100-year tradition of people “from away,” like myself, who love Mount Desert Island, purchasing second homes – i.e., vacation homes. Many of these second-homeowners need to offset the expense of ownership by renting to vacationers when not using the house themselves.

So any ordinance addressing this issue should not treat second homeowners differently from “hosting” owners. Note that the IRS has specific definitions of what is or is not a “second home” (as well as a first, or “primary,” home) for tax purposes, and so any ordinance could be crafted to exempt second homes (and for that matter primary homes that happen to be non-hosted at a particular time) from limits on vacation rentals without introducing vagueness or uncertainty.

The second scenario: The proposed “emergency” ordinance last spring would have pulled the rug out from folks who had started construction on a home with a view towards using it for vacation rentals. Such new construction (assuming it satisfies all existing zoning) has no bearing on the supposed “neighborhood-busting practices” that Mr. Friedmann fears.

The effective date of any new ordinance should not prevent anyone who has already pulled a building permit for a new home — whether or not it’s a second home — from promptly applying for a vacation rental permit once a certificate of occupancy is obtained.

Norman Beamer

Palo Alto, Calif.

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