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Lewes town council schedules hearing for short-term rental ordinance

Roman Battaglia
Delaware Public Media

Lewes Town Council is considering a plan to formally license short-term rentals as residents contend with shifts in the town’s housing market.

The draft ordinance would set an even playing field for property owners seeking both short-term and long-term rental licenses.

But some community members voiced a preference for long-term renters, worrying short-term rentals create a vacant town during the off-season. Other residents complain short-term rentals are used for parties and strain the town’s available parking.

The draft ordinance sent to town council would only regulate overnight occupancy, meaning that it would not impact daytime visitors to rental properties.

A proposal to use lower license fees to incentivize long-term rentals did not make it into the draft ordinance. Instead, the ordinance raises the rental license fee from $83 to $200 for all rentals.

The draft ordinance also sets equal punishments for violations of license or operations rules. Jeffery Goodman, a short-term rentals research consultant who worked with Lewes on the ordinance, says while the town plans to use $500 fines as a warning for violations, the threat of license revocation for 12 months in the ordinance will be more effective. The ordinance includes license revocation as a consequence for a third violation.

“Relative to the amount of money that people are earning from these short-term rentals, I don’t know that these fines are going to be that much of a deterrent," he said. "I think that revocation and the time-out period will be your best tool to straighten.”

The 12-month bar would also prevent property owners who were operating without a license from applying for a rental license.

The council plans a hearing on the subject October 3.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.