By Greg Ellison
(July 9, 2020) Searching for means to reign in nuisance behaviors from a few short-term rentals in Ocean Pines, the board of directors last Wednesday unanimously rejected a motion to ban the practice, instead opting to explore the possibility of an amendment to the county’s rental property regulations.
Director Frank Daly introduced a pair of motions regarding short-term rental properties that are advertised on web-based platforms such as Airbnb, VRBO, Flipkey or Homeaway.
Daly’s first pitch was a motion to develop language for amending association declaration of restrictions that vary to ban rentals of under a week. That approach would require a majority vote by association membership.
“The number of homeowner complaints and number of homeowners that subscribe to these rental programs makes this a community-wide issue that justifies a referendum vote,” he said.
Daly said the number of online short-term rentals have continued to proliferate in Ocean Pines.
“Worcester County has enacted recent legislation regulating and requiring registration of these properties in a largely voluntary program that lacks funding for enforcement,” he said.
Daly said discussions with Worcester County officials when they were developing their rental regulations last year, indicated that an amendment specific to Ocean Pines would be considered if requested.
The outcome of a referendum vote to ban short-term rentals would provide the board guidance if the text amendment route has community backing.
Director Tom Janasek, however, balked at the referendum suggestion because the topic was primarily tied to a property on Abbyshire Road that led a special board meeting on June 23.
“We’re basing it on some properties in the Pines that are blatantly disregarding the rules that the county has put forth last year in order to make sure that this doesn’t happen with rentals, period … not just short term,” he said. “Not all short-term rentals are as derelict as the one we’ve been discussing for the last two weeks.”
Janasek said the board’s involvement at this point should be limited to recent conversations among members and with county officials.
“If you look at what we’ve done and Steve [Tuttle] has done … in the last two weeks we’ve gotten the zoning enforcement agency of the county to actually get off their butts and come and go after these people,” he said.
Janasek also questioned the lack of county funding for enforcement of short-term licensing requirements.
“They’re funded by the $200 per rental unit in Worcester County [and] the number’s got to be over 10,000 rental units,” he said. “To say that they lack funding for enforcement, as far as I’m concerned, I don’t believe it.”
Janasek said the right path of action for the board and OPA members is working with Worcester officials.
“We’ve done the right thing by going to the county and saying, ‘This is your law, you made it [and] its time to start enforcing it,’” he said.
Janasek opposed banning short-term rentals, based in part on associated costs to stage a referendum vote, and because it could thwart community development.
“There are a lot of people that come into Ocean Pines that aren’t ready to retire yet,” he said. “They’re buying some of these derelict homes … fixing them up and renting them for a couple of years until they can retire.”
Janasek said a short-term rental restriction could inhibit future community members from establishing residency, while acknowledging other sentiments exist among online property agents.
“Yes, there are people on the complete opposite side that are doing it just for financial gain,” he said.
Daly also proposed a motion to develop a referendum question regarding stricter regulations for short-term rentals and whether the board should ask the county for an amendment specific to Ocean Pines.
“The reason for two is both could be accepted, rejected or people could choose one over the other,” he said.
Daly said even though only a handful of the roughly 180 Ocean Pines properties advertising short-term rentals, the Abbyshire Road residence has been a nuisance to neighbors for three years.
“The problems have been large and ongoing for surrounding homes,” he said. “Currently, no restrictions or enforcement mechanism exists at the Ocean Pines or county levels to affect a rapid solution,” he said.
Daly said unlike Worcester’s municipalities, such as Ocean City, Berlin or Snow Hill, Ocean Pines is a homeowners association and has no zoning authority.
Director Dr. Colette Horn said the topic deserves further research, adding, “The text amendment would be preferable because it would provide universal coverage in Ocean Pines as to what the regulations are,” she said.
Horn said any text amendment language developed should also address sub-leased properties.
“We’re two-degrees removed from the source of anybody that we have reach to influence,” she said.
Director Larry Perrone said limiting online rentals based on time of stay would fail to address the issues raised by neighbors on Abbyshire Road.
“Even in talking to the homeowners on the property we’ve been dealing with, they were not concerned about the length of time of the rentals but with the number of people,” he said.
Timely enforcement was the larger concern cited by Perrone.
“I do agree we need to do something to try and get control of the properties that are out of control,” he said. “The issue is the number of people and vehicles, and that leads to the amount of trash and ultimately noise problems,” he said.
OPA President Doug Parks also expressed doubts about a rental ban.
“We can’t just mandate that everybody is going to be a bad renter,” he said.
Parks said the text amendment path could allow the Ocean Pines Police Department to enforce county regulations.
“It would allow an immediacy of action,” he said.
Parks, who noted that the OPA Declaration of Restrictions includes language concerning disturbances, said a board workgroup consisting of Daly, Tuttle and Camilla Rodgers has already begun investigating the rental topic.
“The county clearly defined what constitutes a bedroom and occupancy limits based on square footage,” he said.
Tuttle, who proposed the work group continue delving into matters, said parking and excessive trash are two primary issues of concern surrounding short-term rentals.
“If residents are living next door to a problem property, let us know so we can take it to the county,” he said.
Horn said any text amendments developed should not be limited to rental properties.
“I don’t think these problem behaviors are limited to rentals,” she said. “There are people who own property … and don’t always use it responsibly.”
Horn also proposed in lieu of holding a referendum, community sentiment could be determined by polling or holding a town hall meeting.
Parks said the discussion had yielded further insights for the work group to weigh, with a subsequent vote on the initial motion to consider banning short-term rentals defeated 6-0.