James Rada, Jr.

The Emmitsburg Town Council is tackling the issue of short-term rental housing, such as the type of rentals made through Airbnb. These rentals aren’t hotels or bed and breakfasts. Sometimes, they might not even be the rental of the entire home.

This type of rental differs from a traditional lodging option because it may not have an on-site manager and it isn’t subject to health and safety inspections. They also don’t use commercial signage and are typically rented online through a site like Airbnb.

There is concern of such rentals changing the nature of the neighborhood and even commercializing it to some extent. It also increases the number of strangers in a neighborhood. There have been problems with fraudulent listings, unfair competition with tradition lodging, and the lack of public notice about such rentals taking place.

“It can be like having a mini-hotel in your neighborhood,” said Town Planner Sue Cipperly.

Zoning and code changes can help regulate such usage. Short-term rentals can be treated as a commercial use. They can be licensed. Additional insurance can be required. Rental rooms can be limited. Adequate parking can be required. These are a few of the control options that municipalities can enact.

“This is not a unique problem,” said Town Manager Cathy Willets. “It’s a problem the state of Maryland across the board has been trying to figure out.”

Maria Henry, who uses her home for short-term rentals, said she went to Frederick County to see if she could do this because the town does not have an ordinance addressing it. The county told her she was “good to go,” but the town threatened her with fines. This seems to have been due to parking issues her rental caused and not because of the rental itself.

“If there’s no ordinance, I shouldn’t be punished for continuing an Airbnb,” Henry said.

Cipperly explained that the town found a way to fit the rental use into the town code, but this created the parking issue.

The commissioners will continue considering how to deal with the problem in an equitable way, compared to traditional lodging and long-term rentals, like those used by students at Mount St. Mary’s.

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