VENTNOR – The Board of Commissioners Thursday lifted its temporary restriction on short-term rentals amid the coronavirus pandemic. Property owners will be allowed to rent their properties on a short-term basis starting Monday, June 1.
The city has been gradually loosening its COVID-19 restrictions and today allowed bicycle riding on the boardwalk.
The commissioners passed a resolution on March 26 restricting short-term rentals that echoed a provision in the governor’s Executive Order No. 108 that short-term rentals are considered non-essential businesses. Their action was to limit an increase in density early-on in the pandemic to help curb the spread of COVID-19. The resolution prohibited the leasing of properties for less than 21 days until further notice.
According to a city official, property owners are “chomping at the bit” to rent their units. Some use Airbnb or VRBO to find tenants. However, renting on a short-term basis for less than 30 days requires a mercantile license, which costs $100 for the year. Property owners can also rent their properties for longer periods and can obtain a summer Certificate of Occupancy, which requires the owner to sign an affidavit certifying the unit has properly working smoke and CO detectors.
The city adopted an ordinance in December 2018 requiring property owners to register for a mercantile license if they rent their properties for less than 30 days through online rental marketplaces, such as Airbnb, Evolve, HomeAway or VRBO. The ordinance requires property owners to provide contact information where they can be reached in an emergency. The license also provides the Code Enforcement Officer with the ability to access the property to determine compliance. Violators are subject to fines.
According to Zoning Officer Jimmy Agnesino, last year the city issued 70 mercantile licenses, but there are 290 known rental properties in town.
When the city discovered how many there are, they hired a third-party company, Host Compliance, LLC, at a cost of $18,801 to find and monitor short-term rentals on internet-based platforms and inform the city whenever a rental agreement is made online. The “cutting edge” service would help the city enforce its ordinances, officials said.
“This company will data mine those locations and give us that information,” Commissioner Lance Landgraf said. “The goal is to obtain their contact information to track them if there is an issue.”
As a resort community, the city encourages people to visit, he said.
At Thursday’s meeting, one property owner asking for clarification on lifting the ban said he did not have a mercantile license and didn’t want to get into trouble renting his place for two- or three-day weekends.
The restriction is being lifted as of Monday, June 1, and owners will be required to obtain the license or can operate under a summer Certificate of Occupancy.
Host Compliance is currently working to identify the rental properties and will send out mercantile license applications by the third week in June. However, owners can rent in the meantime.
Agnesino said Host Compliance is currently developing a website, which will be available on the city’s website, VentnorCity.org, where they can fill out an application and pay for their license online using a credit card, he said.
“In the interim, an owner can apply for a seasonal CO and mercantile license applications will automatically be mailed to them,” he said. “They can conduct business as usual.”
Applicants must provide the dimensions of each bedroom to determine occupancy load, he said.
There is no limit on the number of days for a short-term rental.
Although Agnesino said his office has only received two or three complaints so far this year, the complaints were made because neighbors knew of the temporary short-term rental restrictions.
One woman who attended the Zoom meeting, said there is “an all night party house” on her Winchester Avenue block and that she does not feel comfortable in her North Beach neighborhood.
She called police three times last week, she said.
“I’m dealing with arrogant owners. It got to be where I’m scared to be on my deck,” she said. “I’ve had 15-20 people. The owner says they rent to one person, then all of a sudden, it becomes a nightclub.”
Another VRBO host who owns and lives in one unit of his duplex said it is easy for him to keep an eye on his guests and limits it to families of four people coming to enjoy the shore and experience Ventnor.
“But there are people who do short-term rentals who don’t live here year-round and its much tougher for them to control the guests they are having here,” he said.
Kurt Kwart, who owns a duplex on North Derby Avenue, suggested rental property owners install security cameras, such as Ring doorbells, to help monitor activities during the rental period.
Yet another resident suggested owners install decibel meters to track noise levels generated by tenants.
However, state regulations on the use of decibel meters is cumbersome, requiring police officers to be certified to take readings, Solicitor Tim Maguire said.
Police Chief Douglas Biagi said the Police Department has trained officers and are purchasing a decibel meter, which will give officers everything they need to make a solid case should the owner be issued a court summons.
“We are absolutely there and ready to tackle it,” Biagi said.
He encouraged neighbors to call police to report problems. Biagi said ordinances have been adjusted to ensure compliance.
“There’s nothing we haven’t covered,” he said. “I’m hoping this summer shows a huge improvement over the last few years.”
Renters are informed through the rental platforms of all the city’s regulations, he said.
Call City Clerk Lisa Hand at 609-823-7904 to obtain a mercantile license.
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