Short-term rentals, seasonal versus year-round occupancy — Worcester County and its communities have full agendas of residential zoning matters that, more often than not, seem to operate according to the honor system.
As zoning becomes more complicated, as it combines the practical, technical and cultural aspects of what can go where, the enforcement contingents of these agencies remain relatively unchanged.
The county has established its regulations on short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods, and Berlin is about to embark on a similar path, but the question remains how effectively either of these governments can respond if property owners decide not to abide by the rules.
Government agents are not, as was pointed out a couple of years ago in Ocean City’s rancorous debate over occupancy limits and short-term rentals in single-family districts, going into a residence to conduct a head count.
Further, like Ocean City, they don’t have the personnel to investigate or inspect every perceived breach of the code should a change of a property’s use quietly occur.
The legal flap between year-round residents at White Horse Park and the county, as well as numerous seasonal residents of that community, is a notable example of what happens when a code conflict goes unnoticed over time.
If, as the year-round residents argue, some of them have been living full-time in these seasonal homes for 30 years, who’s to say they couldn’t have continued for another 30 years had not the county’s attention been drawn to the situation?
The power of zoning is greatest in the planning process, before something is built. After that, enforcement is more complaint-driven than anything else, leaving property owners quite a bit of latitude, as long as they get along with their neighbors.