Ocean City Today

OC eyes code amendment  for short-term online rentals

By Greg Ellison | Apr 12, 2018
Source: File Photo Ocean City is contemplating a housing code amendment requiring mandated information disclosures for summer rental advertisements in print or online.

(April 13, 2018) As it continues to wrestle with a way to regulate online short-term rentals, Ocean City government is considering a housing code amendment that would require increased disclosure for electronic advertisements.

Planning Director Bill Neville told the City Council on Tuesday the proposal would require properties advertised online to include either the rental license number or the physical address.

“It’s a way to advise folks looking to rent a property ... it is in compliance with our local codes and regulations,” he said. “In essence, we’re adding a definition of what constitutes advertising.”

Under the proposed amendment, the definition of advertisement would be expanded to include any form of communication, including mailings, brochures, print, or online.

The definition of rental housing would also be enlarged to encompass dwelling, rooming, sleeping, housekeeping or efficiency units.

Precisely delineating what constitutes rental housing is crucial if enforcement efforts face legal challenges, Neville said.

“In front of a judge … the definition of housing type needs to be accurate,” he said.

Neville said the code amendment would send a serious message, particularly for property owners advertising rentals through online hosting platforms like Airbnb or VRBO, but would not reduce the enforcement challenges.

“It doesn’t directly help us find the people who aren’t getting their license,” he said. “We still have to chase after the people who haven’t complied yet.”

While the goal is having properties abiding by licensing regulations, Neville said there has been talk of including an additional penalty for rental property advertisements lacking mandated disclosures.

“We have a penalty in place for not having a license,” he said. “Do we want another penalty for not having the information in an ad.”

Chris Mitchell, Coldwell Banker Vacations regional vice president, said property owners, not rental agents, are responsible for obtaining rental licenses.

“We talked about the possibility of the town maintaining a database,” he said. “We want to be proactive, but right now we’re limited on the tools.”

Neville said once language is finalized, the code amendment could become effectively immediately but include a phase-in period for compliance by next January.

Councilman John Gehrig cautioned against unintended consequences.

“There seems to be some unknowns at this point,” he said. “It may be prudent to take it slow and get it right.”

Noting enforcement wouldn’t commence until next year, Councilman Wayne Hartman was more concerned with assuring fiscal ramifications for noncompliance were included.

“An ordinance without a penalty is just a waste of time,” he said. “We need to have a penalty for using a fake license number. That’s the kind of thing we may start seeing.”

City Manager Doug Miller said advertised license numbers could be confirmed during the year.

“Our primary objective is to identify property,” he said. “I think we can work though that.”

Neville said he would consult further with the city attorney about language revisions and return with an updated ordinance amendment to a future council work session.

“We can with this effort really eliminate a big problem in town,” he said.

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