(Aug. 23, 2019) A proposed zoning measure that would include a new section regulating short-term rentals in Worcester County will be revised before the county commissioners resume the discussion of how or whether to proceed.
The commissioners on Tuesday suggested that Ed Tudor, the director of review and permitting, make changes regarding the additional parking requirement, the relationships of the renters and square footage of rental units before they take up the matter again.
According to Tudor, the bill was not reviewed by the Department of House and Urban Development in regard to fair housing laws, but were viewed and approved by the county attorney.
As it’s now written, the bill would require an additional parking spot for short-term rentals, which currently requires two spaces for a rental of any size. Joe Wilson, president of the Coastal Association of Realtors, thought the parking requirement could prevent certain properties from renting.
“I don’t even know if some houses are capable of adding another parking spot,” Wilson said. “If that’s the case, are they just not allowed to rent? What’s the consequences to the owner of the property?”
Commissioner Joseph Mitrecic suggested that the county will examine parking on new developments as a whole in the future because Ocean City has different parking requirements than the county. Ocean City’s parking requirement is based on the bedroom count, which can cause the need for a great number of parking spots.
As for the relationships of the renters, the bill states that a rental must be restricted to one family or housekeeping unit of unrelated persons. There is no plan to regulate this other than the property recording the renter relationships.
“Read literally, this provision would appear to make it unlawful for a group of six unrelated friends or two unrelated families to rent a house in order to vacation together in Worcester County,” Wilson said.
Commissioner Ted Elder believed that the government was digging farther than it should by regulating the relationships of the renters.
“It’s not the government’s business who’s sleeping with who,” Elder said.
The third issue commissioners requested to change was the regulation that limits two people per bedroom.
“It should be based on square footage,” Commissioner Chip Bertino said. “I don’t know what that equation should be as far as square footage is concerned, but that seems more equitable.”
Wilson said his biggest concern was the occupancy limit.
“If you have a 600-square-foot bedroom and only put two people in it, that doesn’t make a lot of sense, particularly with a family and you’ve got several kids who want to all stay in the same room,” Wilson said. “Why would you limit that?”
Tudor explained that this regulation was to protect the character of a single-family neighborhood where a rental property might be located. He defined the “character of a neighborhood” as one in which neighbors are familiar with one another. According to Tudor, short-term renters generally don’t have the same regard for neighbors as long-term renters or permanent residents.
“It changes the sense of place,” Tudor said.
Commissioners Mitrecic and Jim Bunting moved to approve the bill. Commissioners Joshua Nordstrom, Bertino, Church and Elder moved to deny. Bertino then moved to bring the bill back with changes and Church seconded.
Wilson seemed to think that the public hearing was a win for Realtors.
“The commissioners did a good job of recognizing that what they had in front of them still needed some work,” Wilson said.
Another change the bill mandated is rental inspections. Most of the time, according to Tudor, government officials will only inspect a short-term rental upon complaint and will not enforce entry.
Once the bill’s revisions have been made, the revamped legislation will go through the same chain of approvals before it reaches the commissioners for another review.