Short term rental discussions on horizon for Camden

By Susan Mustapich | Apr 12, 2018
Photo by: Susan Mustapich Nancy Hughes broker owner of Camden Coast Real Estate, and is the top seller in Maine of individual real estate parcels in Knox County.

CAMDEN — Talk about short-term rentals in Camden is percolating around town, with informal meetings involving lodging business owners, town officials, and real estate and insurance professionals.

Nancy Hughes, real estate broker and owner of Camden Coast Real Estate, sat down for an interview April 5, and shared her views on what she thinks would work for short term rentals in Camden, and why.

Hughes has been aware of concerns about short-term rentals in Camden, from owners of lodging businesses, including bed and breakfasts, and more recently from town residents.

She is also open to contributing to discussions about changes in the town ordinances.

Hughes would like to see any ordinance preserve and support the town's bed and breakfast and lodging industry, while finding a way for homeowners to continue to be able to make some kind of income from rentals.

Hughes sees the B&B industry as "still thriving" but in need of support.

"The bed and breakfasts are part of the New England experience," she said. "These beautiful buildings are part of the draw for people who come here. The B&B's are gorgeous, and there's a lot of money that goes into maintaining them and taking care of them."

She supports "open competition" that allows homeowners to rent short-term, while recognizing this "imparts a hardship" to the lodging businesses.

To level the playing field, Hughes sees a need for updated regulation and licensing of home rentals, and coming up with a way to enforce the regulations. One piece of this would be to hold home rentals to some of the same commercial standards that the businesses have to meet, including safety standards. Another piece is to require homeowners to have the proper rental insurance.

At the town level, she sees licensing of short term rentals to ensure the rules are met, and licensing fees to cover town costs. Licensing also serves to educate people who may want to rent out a property.

Hughes firmly believes in requiring that home rentals are no shorter than one week. The B&B's are set up for the turnover of two and three day stays, she said, but that kind of turnover in rental homes crosses the line of allowing commercial activity in residential neighborhoods.

Achieving the right balance between lodging businesses and home rentals could benefit everyone, according to Hughes.

Week-long home rentals bring visitors to town who "spend a lot of money" in stores and  restaurants, she said. These rentals bring people to Camden who may otherwise not be able to afford the stay in a hotel or bed and breakfast, and the same time support local businesses.

The rentals help homeowners pay their taxes, and for some owners, enable them to continue to live here, she said.

She has heard opinions that short-term home rentals should be stopped entirely in Camden, in order to preserve neighborhoods. Hughes believes this would not only take needed revenue away from local businesses, but could cause a collapse in local real estate values. The ability to rent a property is a "big part of why people own property here," as well as "perceived value," she said.

Additionally, Camden has a long history of seasonal homeowners. Hughes recalls that 15 years ago, she lived on Chestnut Street, and all winter long was surrounded by dark houses, with the exception of one neighbor. Many of the owners lived in the homes for no more than a few weeks in the summer, she said. She believes it is far better to have people in those houses, and frequenting local businesses

She thinks any decision on changes to town ordinances on short-term rentals should go to voters. "I don't think it should be strictly on the shoulders of the town when it's affecting everyone here," she said.

Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell reported in her mid-March manager's report that she has heard "a number of perspectives and ideas on what could work for Camden" in regard to changing regulations on short term rentals.


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