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A home on Prince George Street has a sign placed in a window signaling support of O-26-19, the short-term vacation rental legislation Annapolis. The City Council is poised to pass the legislation Monday, finally regulating short-term rentals in the city.
A home on Prince George Street has a sign placed in a window signaling support of O-26-19, the short-term vacation rental legislation Annapolis. The City Council is poised to pass the legislation Monday, finally regulating short-term rentals in the city. (Joshua McKerrow/Capital Gazette)

At least three Annapolis City Council members and Mayor Gavin Buckley are expected to vote in favor of legislation that taxes and regulates short-term rentals in the city, all but assuring the bill’s passage at the first council meeting of the year Monday.

Since it was introduced last year, O-26-19, a bill that aims to tax and regulate short-term rentals like Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway, has drawn battle lines across Annapolis, setting apart long-time residents, property owners and other stakeholders who have spoken at length at two public hearings and several other city council meetings.

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Residents see the influx of short-term rental properties in recent years as a nuisance that has hurt the makeup of their communities. They say the properties must be heavily regulated and reduced.

Short-term property owners initially criticized the bill for being too harsh but have made gains in eliminating a hotly debated primary residency requirement. They now see the amended bill as a compromise from earlier versions.

On Monday, the bill will come to a final vote.

Alderman Ross Arnett, D-Ward 8, one of the cosponsors, said he and the bill’s other co-sponsor, Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson, D-Ward 4, will vote yes. Buckley and Alderman Fred Paone, R-Ward 2, have indicated they will vote in favor as well. With one council member recused and another expected to miss the meeting, the bill likely only need four votes to pass.

Paone said he would “probably vote to support" the bill, calling it “better than nothing."

Alderwoman Elly Tierney, D-Ward 1, is recused from voting and discussing the bill during City Council meetings because she owns and operates a bed and breakfast in the Annapolis historic district. The Annapolis ethics commission upheld her recusal in November citing again a potential conflict of interest after she asked the commission to reconsider her ability to participate in a debate around the bill.

Alderman Marc Rodriguez, D-Ward 5, who along with Buckley, Finlayson, Arnett and Paone voted in favor of the bill Nov. 18, will not be at Monday’s meeting because he’s out of town.

That leaves three members — Alderman Rob Savidge, D-Ward 7, Alderman DaJuan Gay, D-Ward 6, and Alderwoman Rhonda Pindell Charles, D-Ward 3 — all of whom voted against the amended bill in November.

Even if all three vote no, the bill would pass by a count of 4-3.

Gay has not decided which way he will vote, he said.

“Still pondering," Pindell Charles wrote in an email.

In the months since Nov. 18, Savidge’s position hasn’t changed, he said. The Ward 7 alderman tried and failed to amend the bill at a Dec. 9 City Council meeting.

A compromise Savidge has proposed is reinstituting a primary residency requirement that ensures a short-term rental license holder lives on the property they are renting out. The requirement was removed from an earlier version of the bill and replaced with a rule that limited short-term rental licenses to one per person. If a license holder lives anywhere other than the property they are renting, they are required to hire a property manager.

Savidge also suggested putting a pause on issuing permits and grandfathering in existing permit holders.

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“I’m a scientist so I like to look at the data and the data that we have clearly indicates there is a problem,” Savidge said, pointing to data that shows hundreds of short-term rental properties in Annapolis, concentrated in Ward 1 and Ward 8, many of which are owner-unoccupied. “I think it’s a shame that this legislation doesn’t even get to the main issue. And Ward 1 is left out to dry in all of this. Whether or not it passes or fails, I’m still going to following up immediately.”

Arnett said he expects to work with Savidge on related legislation when the time comes.

“Rob is a good colleague and I like it better when we’re on the same page than when we’re on the opposite page,” he said.

Buckley has been eager to pass legislation and begin regulating and taxing rental properties as soon as possible. If passed, the license holders would be required to pay a 7% hotel tax.

“We have to create a level playing field for the hotels who are subject to standards and taxes, a hotel tax," Buckley said. “But you can’t regulate what you don’t know you have.”

Neighboring counties, including Montgomery and Prince George’s, have passed short-term rental legislation and a bill sponsored by Anne Arundel County Councilwoman Lisa Rodvien, D-Annapolis, is making its way through the Anne Arundel County Council. Under Rodvien’s bill, only individuals — not corporations or other businesses — may apply for a maximum of two short-licenses, which cost $400 each. The bill also requires booking platforms to verify that a property owner has been registered with the county before booking. A second county bill amends the county code to levy a 7% hotel tax on short-term rentals.

There will be more city “clean-up” legislation to come, Buckley said, including a bill that would lower the age requirement to apply for a short-term rental license from 21 to 18. Gay had initially introduced an amendment with that language but it was inadvertently excluded from the bill.

Another bill would prevent platforms from accepting hosts who don’t have a license, similar to the county bill, Buckley said.

Other future legislation would focus on zoning and density, Arnett said, a strategy that is employed in Rodvien’s county bill. A vote on the county bill is possible Jan. 21.

“There’s more work to be done,” Arnett said. “But what we really need is ... to get them licensed and inspected and then we’ll know how many out there are really or how many are out there legally."

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