Dover council overrides mayor’s veto of short-term rental rules

DOVER — There was a congenial tug of war about short-term rentals between Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen and councilmen at this week’s City Council meeting.

Near the beginning of the Monday meeting, Mayor Christiansen announced his veto of council’s Dec. 14 adoption of Ordinance No. 2020-05, which puts rules in place for owners of short-term rentals in the city.

Robin Christiansen

However, council members eventually overrode the mayor’s veto by a unanimous 8-0 vote, saying the city needs to have the regulations in place to protect neighborhoods and property owners.

“I would like to reiterate my appreciation to the staff for putting in this ordinance,” Mayor Christiansen said during the virtual meeting. “I also appreciate the long and tedious deliberation that the members of council went through.

“But I would be remiss, because I don’t have a vote, pulling out some issues that I saw that were lacking in putting a business, for all intent and purposes, in some of our neighborhoods.”

He added, “I still feel this is not anything adversarial between myself and members of council, but I believe, if you’re bringing a moneymaking business into the community to established homes and residences, that we have a responsibility to maintain their property values and keep peace and tranquility in those neighborhoods.”

Councilman David Anderson said that on any given night he can find up to 80 short-term rentals within Dover’s city limits online. He added that the rental issue is already well-entrenched in the neighborhoods and needs to be regulated.

“I greatly respect the mayor and his point of view, but a person who rents their property out right now for the whole year gets to operate as a normal rental and does not need to go through a conditional use,” Councilman Anderson said, noting that it took council seven months to reach its compromise on regulations. “The fact is there are hordes of these that are happening right now.

“On any given night, I’ve looked up, and I can find up to near 80 (STRs) in the city, and we have no regulation on it. I think we definitely have to move for some type of regulation.”

City Planner Dave Hugg was the main architect of the short-term rental rules and regulations.

Some highlights of the new regulations are:
• The owner of any dwelling proposed for a short-term rental must obtain an annual short-term rental license and pay a license fee of $100, as established by the city. The license, which will be required beginning Jan. 31 of each year, will be valid for up to one year. The fee will be prorated for a partial year.
• An inspection by the Dover Department of Planning & Inspection shall be required to determine compliance with city property maintenance, life safety and building codes. Any items in noncompliance shall be remedied before a license shall be granted.
• The owner of the property being used as a short-term rental must be a permanent resident of Dover and must reside in the dwelling when it is not being used as a rental. The owner must also provide the name and phone number of a local contact person to address complaints on a 24/7 basis when the dwelling is being rented.
• The number of guests permitted at any time shall not exceed twice the number of bedrooms. For example, a three-bedroom home can have six occupants. All short-term rentals, regardless of the number of bedrooms, would have a maximum limit of eight guests.
• The maximum number of rented days offered for STRs, regardless of number of separate rentals, is limited to 30 days total per calendar/license year.

Mr. Hugg said creating an ordinance for STRs just makes sense to protect neighboring property owners.

“The ordinance establishes an annual licensing process and sets forth owner’s rules, responsibilities and obligations with limits on frequency of rental and occupancy,” he said. “It provides safeguards to protect established neighborhoods, address nuisances, provide notice and address complaints.

“It also includes provisions for reporting, enforcement and penalties for violations. Finally, it makes corrective amendments in the code to ensure consistency.”

He added that the city recognizes that short-term rentals are an economic asset, which allow for increased travel, visitation and tourism, and afford property owners the opportunity to earn revenue from such occupancy. He added that the city wishes to establish regulations to ensure that such uses do not create public safety risks or become nuisances.

Mayor Christiansen said he doesn’t believe the number of consecutive short-term rental days should exceed 10 because it would be easier to monitor and enforce.

“It is still my belief that these short-term rentals are a business and should be approved as such by going through the conditional-use approval process reviewed by the Planning Commission and approved by council,” said Mayor Christiansen. “I believe this is the right thing to do.”

There are many residents in Dover that rent their houses out during NASCAR race weekends and during the Firefly Music Festival.

Mr. Hugg said the ordinance would not necessarily affect them.

“It makes it feasible for someone to rent their house to a guest for Firefly or Dover Days or the races of Dover (International Speedway),” he said. “(However,) it limits their ability to rent it weekend after weekend after weekend.”

The ordinance specifies, “The purpose of this (division) shall be to minimize public safety risks and noise, trash and parking problems often associated with short-term rentals; to ensure that traditional neighborhoods are not turned into tourist areas to the detriment of long-term residents; and to ensure that individual dwellings are not turned into pseudo hotels or party houses.”

City Council has set a $100 fine per offense for violations to the regulations.

Mayor Christiansen still is not satisfied that Dover’s STR rules and regulations cover enough ground.

“A conversation needs to take place regarding if the property should be occupied by the owner when not on a short-term rental agreement,” he said. “We also need to discuss a means to be able to have a local contact person with a current phone number and email address in case any concerns should arise. This needs to be evaluated and updated every six months.

“Finally, I believe as a maintenance of standards and fairness, these properties should be subject to the lodging tax just as other hoteliers are required to be taxed. I hope that these issues can be revisited and the ordinance modified and strengthened to the satisfaction of all parties.”

Those issues weren’t revisited Monday night, but Councilman Anderson said they could be down the line.

“If we need to look at (the STR ordinance) a couple of years down the road, if (the mayor’s right), and it’s non-sufficient, that’s fine,” Councilman Anderson said, “but we’re going to (be) better off doing something than doing nothing.

Councilman Fred Neil made the motion to override the mayor’s veto.

“I think, basically, the reason we went this direction was because it was wide open, (a) Wild West in terms of what was happening in the community,” he said. “They were not being protected. And if you don’t have the rules and regulations and the things we have included in this ordinance, then you go back, and that protection is gone. There’s nothing you can really do to keep it under control.”

Council President Bill Hare echoed Councilman Anderson’s sentiments.

“I do agree,” said Councilman Hare. “I think it can be looked at down the road, but this is the first step toward getting some control over people in your neighborhood buying your next-door neighbor’s house and then not living there or anything — living out of state — and just renting the rooms every day for whoever wants to rent it.”