Maine City Considers Strict Rules for Rental Services Like Airbnb

Short-term rentals may be short-lived in South Portland, Maine, where city councilors are considering new, strict guidelines for rentals through websites like Airbnb.

The new rules would only allow hosts to rent properties on these websites when the owner is staying on the property at the same time as the guests. It's known as a "host stay."

"We've almost reached a tipping point in South Portland," said City Councilor Kate Lewis. "Our residential neighborhoods are being used for lodging."

Websites like Airbnb, VRBO and Home Away have become popular worldwide. It gives property owners new opportunities to make money, and gives tourists the ability to find lodging cheaper than hotels.

But in South Portland, Lewis says the trend may be eating up the housing market and changing the character of the community.

"I have heard loudly and clearly from most of the people who have contacted me that they're very concerned about neighborhood character being eroded," she said, citing noise complaints and "nuisance behavior" of guests.

But property owners like Maggie Birlem are fighting back, hiring a lawyer and starting a legal defense fund to challenge the city's potential crack down.

"I think at this point, our only recourse is the courts," she said.

Birlem has been renting two units on websites such as for nearly seven years. She says the extra income allows her to be a stay-at-home mom.

"We're finding ways to eek out a living the best we can," she said.

She feels that the South Portland proposal is extreme, especially compared to regulations in neighboring cities. She thinks South Portland would be better served by having a cap on hosts, instead of creating a near-ban. Birlem says guests staying in short term rentals bring valuable tourism dollars to the city.

The council is expected to have a final vote on Feb. 20.

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