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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Berlin walks fine edge on short-term rentals

Short-term rentals have become a long-term headache for elected officials across the country, as they weigh the interests of their constituents in residential neighborhoods and the property rights of vacation rental investors.

The absence of irrefutable arguments on either side of the debate has resulted a situation so complex that no one has produced a perfect solution.

To argue that allowing short-term rentals in single-family residential neighborhoods is a property rights issue, for instance, is an over-simplification.

Property owners do have the fundamental right to use their property as they see fit, but these rights are limited by zoning and the common law principle that a property owner can’t use the premises in a way that creates a nuisance for nearby owners and occupants.

In a way, it’s like the barking dog lawsuits that have come and gone before the courts. A person has the right to own a dog, but that protection doesn’t extend to a dog whose incessant barking keeps the neighbors up at night.

Obviously, the owner of a home has the right to rent it, and under that principle, the rental term should make no difference. Still, that guarantee doesn’t supercede the neighbors’ rights to the peaceful enjoyment of their properties.

It’s this fine edge that the Town of Berlin will have to navigate as it looks for a reasonable accommodation of both sides.

In November, Virginia Beach instituted a short-term rental ordinance that attempts to do that. It makes short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods a conditional use. The ordinance requires these rentals to provide one space per bedroom on-premises parking and imposes occupancy limits and other requirements. Additionally, the conditional use permits must be renewed periodically, which gives officials the opportunity to review whether these rentals have kept to the standard.

As Berlin attempts to find a middle ground in this discussion, Virginia Beach’s solution might be worth examining.