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short-term rentals banned during coronavirus pandemic

By Anthony SanFilippo
April 2020

Governors are telling residents of their states to stay home during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, and they can’t reiterate enough that the mandates mean home – as in your own.

As such, they’ve had to take the stay-home mandate a step further and ban short-term rentals during the pandemic.

Whether it’s people simply ignoring the concept of self-isolation, or folks going stir crazy in their own homes and wanting to social distance somewhere other than where they’ve been cooped up for weeks, rentals were still taking place, and in turn, putting people at risk.

It’s a difficult decision for some, as the tourism industry is a big part of the economy and preventing rentals will bring an even greater negative economic impact. But at some point, stopping the virus has to be the most important decision.

A focus on safety

“The concerns for public health outweigh the concerns regarding the loss of income for people who operate short-term rentals,” Kimberly Cook, a member of the City Council in Portland, Maine told National Public Radio (NPR) after the Council voted to ban these rentals.

Portland is still allowing some rentals in unique cases – such as medical professionals coming into the city to help battle COVID-19, preventing homelessness or using a residence to separate from a co-resident who may be in isolation with the virus.

Following the Portland ban, another Main tourist town – Bar Harbor – also shut down short-term rentals. More in the state are sure to follow.

“We’re very much concerned with people feeling as if they can flee the virus by coming to Maine or other states where the population is less dense, or where we have not been designated a hotspot by (the Federal Emergency Management Agency), or the president, or the vice president,” Maine Gov. Janet Mills said at a recent press conference. “That would be a false motivation to come to any state.”

“”We’re very much concerned with people feeling as if they can flee the virus by coming to Maine or other states where the population is less dense, or where we have not been designated a hotspot.”

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf removed short-term rental companies – such as Vrbo and Airbnb from the state’s list of “life-sustaining” businesses during the statewide shutdown and his administration is working on a guidance to address short-term rental bans during the pandemic.

This came after a surge of COVID-19 cases, in the Pocono Mountain area, became a hotspot in Pennsylvania for the virus, which some attributed to out-of-state travelers lodging in short-term rental homes in the popular vacation community.

Monroe County, where many of the Pocono vacation homes are located in Pennsylvania, went under a stay-at-home order on March 23 Yet it became the county with the most coronavirus cases per capita in the state by April 1, surpassing neighboring Pike County (also a Pocono area) and all five counties in the Philadelphia area, all of which were initially ahead of Monroe County in the number of COVID-19 cases per capita.

In recent years, Monroe County has seen an influx of growth of residents who work in New York, but don’t want to or can’t afford to live there.

However, with New York and Northern New Jersey becoming the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S., local officials pleaded with Wolf to do something because many short-term rental property owners were trying to attract people to come to their property as an escape from the virus that was ravaging New York.

“We are seeing an influx of New York license plates,” State Rep. Maureen Madden, whose district is in Monroe County, told public broadcasting channel WHYY. “They’re actually coming here, they’re spreading more germs, they’re taking more germs back.”

State Senator Mario Scavello, of Monroe County, posted on Facebook asking people to send him short-term rental advertisements so he can forward them to the state police.

In the beach town of Sea Isle City, New Jersey, Mayor Leonard Desiderio announced that the city was prohibiting short-term rentals to be offered in online marketplaces indefinitely.

Meanwhile, REALTORS® in the beach community also agreed to suspend rentals at least through April and Desiderio is suggesting all property owners do the same.

“I want to thank the real estate and business community for their cooperation with this matter. They understand, as we all do, the magnitude of this crisis, and that a temporary moratorium on rentals is appropriate at this time,” Desiderio told ABC affiliate WPVI.

Airbnb and VRBO offering refunds

According to the Orange County Register, Airbnb will give full refunds for reservations made on or before March 14 for trips scheduled through May 31.

Hosts can also cancel without being charged, or garnering a negative impact to their “super host” status.

In addition, the popular booking website also announced it would set aside $250 million to pay hosts for missed stays.

Vrbo has a similar policy in place, although they are offering credits or refunds through April and will reassess later for dates beyond April 30.

However, not all destination locations have put the kibosh on short-term rentals yet, although they may be pressured to do so sooner, rather than later.

In California, Newport Beach is still allowing them, but it is a hot button issue among residents and the city council as well.

John Pope, a spokesperson for the city, told the Ocean County Register that Newport Beach has seen a “dramatic and sharp decline” in rentals over past weeks.

He added that the city’s Community Development Department is surveying short-term rental property owners and will be working to address neighborhood concerns.

Still, the fact that there isn’t a ban as of the first week of April, has some elected officials up in arms.

“Yes, we have huge concerns,” Joy Brenner, a councilwoman who represents Corona del Mar and who sits on a city ad hoc committee focusing on short-term lodging told the Ocean County Register. “We have both overnight visitors and day visitors who are not observing the governor’s stay-at-home orders who are just flooding us on weekends. It’s just like a zoo out here because there’s so many people.”

Visit our COVID-19 Page for the latest news and information from Home Ownership Matters on COVID-19 and its impact on homeowners, housing and communities across the country.

Guidelines and protocol surrounding COVID-19 are changing quickly. For the most up-to-date information we recommend visiting the CDCWHO, and your local health department websites.


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