BAR HARBOR — Voters at town meeting next month may vote to tighten up vacation rental regulations. In the meantime, property owners are submitting applications in case they ever want to rent their properties out in the future.
Ocean Properties, a hotel group and one of the largest seasonal employers on the island, recently applied for vacation rental registrations for 74 of its properties around town. Eben Salvatore, the local director of operations, said the company was putting in applications for its non-hotel dwelling units to preserve the right to use them as vacation rentals in the future.
“I think anybody who owns a home in this town should consider doing the same thing,” he said.
The new rental rules, if passed, would split vacation rentals, such as Airbnbs, into two different categories, known as VR-1 and VR-2. Rentals that are also the owner’s primary residence would be VR-1s. All others would be considered VR-2s. VR-1s would have a two-night stay minimum and VR-2s would have a minimum rental period of four nights.
There currently is no distinction between the two and all rentals require a four-night minimum.
The new rules would cap the number of VR-2s at 9 percent of the total number of dwelling units in town and prohibit the transfer of registration to new owners.
Anyone who owns an existing vacation rental would be able to continue to operate it if they keep up with the annual registration – even if the town is over the cap. But the cap would block any potential news VR-2s until the town dips back under the 9 percent cap.
To preserve the opportunity to rent a property that isn’t an owner’s primary residence in case that cap is met, people such as Salvatore are applying for registration, even if they may not plan to rent in the immediate future.
“I think every time this topic comes up, we get a little surge of submissions,” said Angela Chamberlain, Bar Harbor’s code enforcement officer.
Her office has received a steady supply of new submissions since the discussion of changes to the land use ordinance came up.
Including Ocean Properties’ 74 new applications, the town has 108 applications pending. The town has already approved 110 new vacation rental registrations this year and renewed 495. If all were approved, the number of vacation rentals in town would be more than 700.
Ocean Properties may apply for even more registrations after this initial round, possibly for the Park Entrance Motel property, Salvatore said. Some of the company’s units will become vacation rentals right away to offset the cost of permitting.
The transferability piece has been the most contentious part of the proposed new rules and the addition of Ocean Properties rentals will drive up the number of VR-2s, making the 9 percent cap goal even harder to achieve.
Salvatore has argued against the cap and believed that most of the disagreement in town is over a small portion of the proposal.
“I felt that this ordinance was so close,” he said.
But advocates feel that the cap is necessary to get the number of out-of-town owned investment properties down and they contend that this is one way to slow the conversion of year-round units to the more lucrative weekly rentals.
Cara Ryan is a supporter of the proposal and was in favor of a cap.
“This, to my mind, is not only reasonable but an extremely gentle way to rein in some housing,” she wrote in an opinion piece this week. “Again, it’s about closing the barn door – a little late – so that we don’t lose more.”
People who are also applying for registrations just in case they want to use it in the future would also skew the registration data, Ryan said later in an interview with the Islander. If anything, she felt these types of applications show that action is needed now.
“For every house that is solely used as vacation rental, it’s fewer neighbors, fewer students in our schools, fewer workers for our businesses,” Ryan said.