As temperatures begin to drop and the tourist season slows down, the Lewes mayor and city council are starting to consider changes to their rental policies.
The existing city code groups all rentals into one category. Anyone who rents their home, townhouse, or condo must get a rental license and then pay the city gross tax on rental revenue each year.
City Manager Ann Marie Townshend thinks it might be time to tell the difference between short term and long term rentals. Short-term rentals, in particular, are heavier on municipal services and have a greater impact on full-time neighbors.
âI think one thing we can agree on is that each year Lewes is more and more discovered,â she said. âIt seems during the pandemic it has increased dramatically. ”
Townshend discussed the idea during a workshop on September 27 at City Hall. Mayor Ted Becker said he wanted to make it clear that the city is not trying to eliminate short-term rentals.
One of the challenges the city faces as it becomes more popular is garbage collection and recycling. The city has tried to get residents and visitors to recycle properly to avoid costly dumping fees if too much waste is mixed in with recycling, and among the biggest offenders are short-term rental units. Townshend said street service staff spend a lot of time checking recycling cans before throwing them into the truck.
âUnfortunately, the recycling rules are nuanced,â she said. âIt’s really a challenge with a stable population to get people to understand what can and cannot be recycled. ”
She said the city is now sending a garbage truck behind the recycling truck to pick up anything that cannot be recycled.
The impact of short-term rentals on neighbors is also a factor to consider, Townshend said. With limited or no parking in parts of the city, she said, short-term rentals can have a major effect on quality of life.
Church Street resident Don Long said he used to go out on his front steps and see a family with three children along with other neighbors.
âNow we are surrounded by Airbnbs,â he said. ” I am not against. I am here to support the effort to find a solution that we can all live with.
Long said these residential houses are being used for business purposes. He said insurance companies view short-term rentals as commercial use.
“That tells you something, I think,” he said.
Some properties are purely an investment, he said.
âThey live five hours away; they’re never there, âhe said of the owners. “I hope this conversation continues and the city develops some standards like it does with other businesses.”
Preserving housing availability should be a Lewes community goal, he said.
âI think we are missing the mark,â he said.
A few owners of short-term rental units also attended the meeting. They said there is a major difference between a unit that is owned by someone who lives in the city and a large house that is owned by someone who does not live nearby.
Amy Cleaver owns a one bedroom unit on Mulberry Street. She has converted part of her house into accommodation that can be rented by one or two people. Children, pets, parties and fires are prohibited, she said.
âThis is my fifth year, and it’s a better than expected experience and a way to generate an income,â she said. âEvery guest loves Lewes and I love to share my little town and my little home.â
Jeff Williamson also has an Airbnb short-term rental on Mulberry Street. Although he does not live there, his house is only a few blocks away.
âMy wife and I spent a lot of money to set it up,â he said. âI control everyone who enters. If I don’t think it’s appropriate, I refuse to praise them. I meet everyone. No one comes without meeting me physically.
He said he has a high standard for the people he chooses to hire. He does not rent to high school or college students.
âEveryone I rent to is professional, educated, sophisticated and loves the opportunity to stay right near the city center,â he said. âWe’ve been doing this for four years and we’ve never had a single complaint. ”
Like Cleaver and Williamson, Airbnb host Judy Rolfe is on site trying to offer a short-term rental that people can enjoy without disturbing the neighborhood.
âI regularly check in with the neighbors to see if they have any sound issues or any kind of problem,â she said.
She suggested the city consider banning investment property by requiring the owner to be on-site or live in the community. She also encouraged the board to hold more public meetings to get further feedback.
If the city decides to split short-term and long-term rentals, Townshend said, the council will have to decide whether they are treated differently in terms of license fees and the tax rate of gross rental revenue.
She said staff will review the September 27 discussion and provide an update and possibly recommendations for next steps at the Monday October 11 regular meeting of the mayor and city council.
Becker said time is running out. If the city wants to put any changes in place before next summer, he said, ideas should be submitted to council by December.