Case study in property rights

By Doc Wallace | Jul 17, 2020

I have been asked by several Rockport citizens to respond to John Viehman’s opinion piece decrying short term rentals. This is not a difficult task inasmuch as Mr. Viehman’s opinion ignores well-founded property rights and is largely based upon the hurt feelings that have descended upon him and a tiny handful of fellow complainants.

To the matter at hand: the Rockport Select Board has, in their wisdom, decided to focus on restricting STRs and forging ahead with putting extensive-use regulations up for a vote on the November ballot. This has been done with minimal opportunity for public comment – especially in the current COVID-19 environment. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at the input that the board has received. During a Zoom workshop on July 9, 12 respondents argued for no regulations on STRs, while two argued in favor. The two were Mr. Viehman and Select Board member, Jeff Hamilton. Curiously, Mr. Viehman denigrates the validity of those who argued against regulations because they host STRs. Isn’t this like dishonoring advocates for increased education taxes when it is discovered they are parents of schoolchildren? Or advocates for increased homestead exemptions when it is discovered – horrors, they are seniors?

Another input that argues for no regulations needed on the November ballot was Police Chief Randy Gagne’s two-year report on STR complaints. Verbatim from the Chief’s report: “2018 – 0 complaints; 2019 – 1 complaint nothing to do with rental properties.”

Mr. Viehman and the board particularly focus on a common target of Maine hostility in this matter – those suspicious non-resident owners from away. Not only do they not want these interlopers to be renting their properties, they complain about their “dark houses” in the winter and make the absurd argument that this reduces rental stock for those who desire long-term housing. Well, here’s an idea for the board. Let’s put the taking of large, unused houses by eminent domain on the November ballot and using them for affordable housing. And how about all those lightly-used boats in Rockport Harbor? Maybe we need an ordinance requiring infrequent boat users to share their crafts with would-be sailors (only residents of course). Joking aside, Mr. Viehman and the Select Board have the smug comfort that, in a town with a significant progressive-liberal voting bloc which loves government regulation, STR restrictions will easily pass.

Sound absurd? Well, listen to Mr. Viehman’s argument regarding “selling the community” to renters. He states that “through hard work and dedication” we wonderful full-time residents have created a “lovely, quaint, cozy” way of life that these people “from away” come here to enjoy. My goodness, what a crime! I think Mr. Viehman has just impugned the raison d’être of tourism. I wonder if the Greeks would have a similar complaint about people “from away” having the temerity to enjoy their architecture and cozy-village island life?

Absurdity continues. I discovered in the board packet for the July 13 meeting that Mr. Viehman had entered the STR regulations for New Orleans as a model for Rockport. It gets better – incredulously STR regulations for Los Angeles and New York City were also put in the packet as models. Wow! This takes the “Camdennization” of Rockport to new heights!

Enough of the absurd. Let me close with some comments that, quite sadly, need to be provided here to make the case for property rights on the STR matter. A couple gets divorced but one parent wants to remain in the house with the kids on less income, so they rent it out in the summer when the kids aren’t in school and can stay with grandparents. A family has to move out of state due to a job loss, but wants to keep the house so they can return to “cozy” Rockport. A family member becomes seriously ill or injured and needs summer rental income to pay unanticipated bills. Elderly parents want to leave their house to their adult children, but there’s no way the kids can afford to pay Rockport’s high taxes without doing summer rentals. The list goes on.

Full disclosure. My wife and I are members of the “sainted” group of permanent on-site resident owners who will likely not be harmed by these unnecessary proposed regulations. However, we feel it is our moral duty to speak out against this unfair targeting of these good people from away who will become regulatory victims of taxation without representation.

In closing, while STR will likely suffer at the ballot box in November, it could be appealed to the courts. In other jurisdictions in the country lawsuits have already been filed. I would love to see the information given above presented to an impartial judge here in Maine to determine if property rights are infringed upon by selective, punishing STR regulations.

With all due respect, Mr. Viehman, respect for property rights IS the “way life should be here.”

Doc Wallace


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Comments (2)
Posted by: Peter Peno | Jul 18, 2020 06:48

A voice of (rational) reason!

Thanks Doc.

Posted by: MARSHA STEINGLASS | Jul 17, 2020 17:12

Thank you Doc, for telling it like it is!

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