Dover seeks tighter regulations for short-term rental properties

DOVER — The city of Dover does not have an ordinance that addresses short-term rental properties within the city, which has become an issue lately with several homeowners who believe more stringent rules — or even elimination — of such rental units in neighborhoods is warranted.

Dave Hugg, director of planning and inspections for the city of Dover, has been busy crafting such an ordinance regarding short-term rental properties (STRs) with city staff and presented the newest version during the annual organizational meeting of Dover City Council on May 11.

The proposed ordinance would put rules into place that would make it a more difficult chore for homeowners in Dover to rent out rooms, known as short-term rentals, which are agreements where a renter stays for less than 30 days.

While members of Dover’s city council referred the proposed ordinance regarding STRs back to staff for further revisions, Mr. Hugg said he will make any necessary changes before he brings it back before council.

Some of the highlights of the ordinance put forth at the May 11 meeting by Mr. Hugg for STRs within the city of Dover were:

• The owner of any dwelling proposed for a short-term rental must obtain an annual Short-term Rental license and pay a license fee as established by the city. The license will be valid for up to one year.

• An inspection by the Dover Code Inspection Department shall be required to determine compliance with city property maintenance, life safety and building codes. Any items in non-compliance shall be remedied before a license shall be granted.

• Short-term rentals may be located no closer than 1,000 feet in any direction from any other STR in existence and properly licensed.

• 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, with a maximum of eight occupants at any one time.

• 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 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, while setting forth the purposes and establishing regulations to ensure that such uses do not create public safety risks or become nuisances.

Mr. Hugg said the biggest problem is when people buy a house just to rent it out with no intention of living at the property.

City Council President William “Bill” Hare supports the idea.

“Any property operating like a hotel should be regulated like one,” Mr. Hare said. “If people want to register as a bed and breakfast, they can still do that. If they want to do it as a hotel, they should meet all the requirements of a hotel. I think that’s the only fair thing to do.”

The issue of STRs came to the forefront when William Ardito, of 4 Lakeview Drive, a property owner and applicant, unveiled plans to use one room of his home as a bed and breakfast during a council meeting on Feb. 10.

Barbara Shepperson, representing eight residents of Sherwood IV, spoke during the public hearing and expressed concern about an Airbnb that had opened in her neighborhood. While Lakeview Drive is not part of the Sherwood development, she still had issues with STRs.

She noted that in her neighborhood, cars come in every night at odd times, checking in all night – usually after midnight – which set off motion lights all night long. She also expressed concern for the safety of the young children and the elderly in the neighborhood and added that garbage is being left out for weeks.

Ms. Shepperson also asked about taxes, permits, zoning, business licenses and regulations related to Airbnbs and the potential lost revenue to the city, eventually suggesting the elimination of short-term rentals.

“If the host wants to rent the house, let them rent it for a year,” Ms. Shepperson said. “I hope you (city council) all vote to change this type of rental.”

Several residents of Dover rent their houses out for a fee during NASCAR 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 says, “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.”