Short-term rental rules get city council approval
By Greg Ellison
(March 31, 2022) After hours of comments from supporters and opponents of rental regulations, Berlin City Council voted on Monday to create and impose new rules for short-term rentals starting July 1.
Mayor Zach Tyndall said the hot topic has been around for several years.
“The intention is to preserve the character of the neighborhood,” he said.
Tyndall said protecting health, safety and general well-being were additional goals for regulating rentals.
“We worked on a lot of the feedback we received in public listening sessions,” he said.
Council members last considered the issue at its February 28 meeting.
Planning Director Dave Engelhart said the order presented on Monday was largely unchanged from the most recent draft.
“Generally, this allows short-term rentals of residential units in all residential districts (R-1-4) and where permitted on the second floor in the business district (B1-3),” it said. -he declares.
In earlier deliberations, council amended the ordinance to require a designated agent to reside within 30 minutes of the rental location.
“We established the license requirement and the amount of fees,” he said.
Engelhart said parking and occupancy limits meet city code.
Of particular note, Engelhart, said an earlier provision requiring short-term rentals to be the owner’s primary residence was later omitted.
Under the proposed order, annual short-term rental licenses would be valid from July 1 to June 30 to reflect Berlin’s tax calendar.
“It can be renewed if it complies,” he said.
Annual license fees were proposed at $125, with a recurring fine of $600 for every 30 days of unlicensed rental.
Engelhart said repeated violations of noise or other city ordinances could result in the license being revoked.
The contentious issue drew a large crowd at Monday night’s meeting, with a host of dissenting voices expressing reservations.
Resident Jay Walsh said the potential for a rapid influx of short-term rentals should worry the community.
“The burden of costs rests on the backs of our citizens,” he said. “Don’t let it deplete resources.”
Based on previous rental experience, resident Tony Weeg also spoke out against the measure.
“Knowing that this is a business and that we don’t let businesses operate in our residential sections, it is clear that this is an obtuse position for a business,” he said.
Weeg, who also owns a condo unit in Ocean City, said a recurring turnover of guests was expected at the beach.
“That’s what OC is designed for,” he said. “I hope you can see the difference between Berlin and Ocean City.”
Weeg espoused support for reinstating the owner-occupancy provision that had been removed.
“That’s not why we bought this amazing city,” he said.
Resident Laura Stearns, who lives opposite a short-term rental, witnessed abuse by passing guests.
“Week after week, you never know what you’re going to get,” she said.
Stearns said allowing short-term rentals in R-1 and R-2 districts without on-site landlords presents problems.
“When it’s not owner-occupied, it means it’s a business,” she said. “It’s people like me who have to live next to a business in the R-1 zone, that’s the problem.
Although hesitant to dictate the uses of the property, Stearns said quality of life issues were at risk.
“I moved here from Ocean City, where I lived next to apartments that were constantly having parties,” she said. “If you let him, he could be next to you.”
Resident Glenn Davis, who moved to Berlin from Bethany Beach, also provided a negative story with short-term rentals.
Davis said he’s seen short-term tenants abuse occupancy limits and ignore noise ordinances.
“They were leaving at the end of the week with overflowing bins, just in time for the cycle to start over and over again,” he said.
Davis said one of the main motivations for moving her offspring to Berlin was a sense of community.
“Rather than helping investors with their rental business, we should be trying to attract families and new owners,” he said.
Resident Debbie Cook, who previously operated rentals in Ocean City, said those in favor of the proposed rules do so because of their financial interests.
“You should also listen to those of us who don’t have a financial interest,” she said.
Cook said allowing short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods would eventually cost the city its charm.
“Just like Ocean City, you’re going to kill the goose that lays the golden egg,” she said.
Resident Ed Hammond also referenced past rental experience.
“I operated short-term rentals in another city for five years,” he said.
Hammond said focusing on the merits of individual tenants misses the big picture.
“The real issue here is the removal of the housing stock from being a functional part of the community,” he said. “Once you launch too many of these operations, you start draining the community.”
Hammond also stressed the need for fines large enough to be more than a cost of doing business for rental operators.
Resident Barb Stack, who joined the chorus of voices pushing for an owner-occupied layout, said around 80% of properties in Berlin are located in the R-1 or R-2 districts.
“Investment companies buy property to make short-term rentals,” she said. “We are going to lose our community.
Berlin Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Ron Cascio also expressed support for putting the owner-occupied aspect back into the ordinance.
“Who are you here to represent is my question?” he said. “We’ll find out soon tonight, I hope.”
Although slightly outnumbered, several short-term rental promoters also provided perspective.
Lindsey Parker, who has operated a short-term rental in Berlin for the past five years, estimated she had 118 bookings during that time.
“The issue is complex,” she said.
Parker said that in most cases, short-term rentals prove beneficial to neighborhoods.
Another Berlin short-term rental operator, Jamie Parker, also expressed support for the proposed rules.
Parker said in his experience that the majority of renters are families with young children looking to avoid the busy resort town.
Following public comments, the council voted in favor of several amendments, including requiring short-term rentals in the R-1 and R-2 districts to be owner-occupied.
The board voted unanimously to increase the license fee from $125 to $200, while setting a $200 per day fine for violations with the possibility of revocation if they reoccur.
The revised ordinance, which was approved by a split vote with opposing council members Dean Burrell and Troy Purnell, is expected to come into effect on or before July 1.