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Ocean City, MD

Ocean City Residents Grapple with Short-Term Rentals

By Anthony SanFilippo
November 2019

Ocean City is a unique beach town because of its location on the far northeastern tip of Maryland.

Nestled between the Delaware beaches and the Virginia border, Ocean City tends to be a 115-block long slice of heaven for many tourists between May and September.

But because of where it is situated, so close to neighboring states, it also faces some significant challenges. None are likely bigger for homeowners than the ongoing battle with the city government on how to manage short-term rental properties.

For much of the past five years, full-time Ocean City residents have been at odds with property owners who do not live at the beach year-round, about renting their homes to tourists.

The line in the sand, as it were, stems from the full-time residents not wanting a constant changeover from one rental group to another in their neighborhoods, while the property owners who are renting out their beach houses fight back with arguments about property rights.

The problem is, these property owners, who dutifully pay property taxes as well as other utility bills and fees to the city and who help the local economy by welcoming vacationers to their homes who will undoubtedly spend money at local businesses, aren’t well-represented.

And now, with Mayor Rick Meehan and City Council discussing solutions for short-term rentals, which could include a ban on all rentals of less than four weeks within certain designated zones in the city, out-of-area homeowners could get squeezed financially on their investment and not even be aware that it’s happening.

“Homeowners who use their properties in Ocean City as an investment should try to stay more on top of the goings-on at City Hall.”

That’s because many homeowners who live outside of Ocean City, do not have the ability to attend City Council Meetings or even Council work sessions.

As such, many decisions that could be made that may have an adverse effect on property rights are being conducted without a real voice for those homeowners.

In short, if they don’t have a seat at the table, then their homes might be on the menu.

Making matters worse, non-resident Ocean City property owners are not allowed to vote in city elections and their voices are largely muted by town officials during these proceedings because they don’t live in the town full time.

It leaves trade organizations like the Coastal Association of REALTORS® to speak out on behalf of these property owners, but that voice while presented loud and clear, isn’t often enough by itself.

Many restrictions on short-term rentals have been considered in recent years in Ocean City, and with the use of social applications like Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO to rent properties growing exponentially, the clamor from full-time residents has grown louder in recent years, leading to the city government to try and come up with a way to combat it.

No property owner who rents their home wants to see a ban on short-term rentals, but it would have an especially negative impact in Ocean City.

Again, considering it’s location, if bans are instituted, and fewer homes or properties are available to rent in Ocean City, tourists will likely look to neighboring beaches – which happen to be situated inside the borders of other states, and all the economic revenue will go to those towns and states, and not to Ocean City, or Maryland.

As such, homeowners who use their properties in Ocean City as an investment should try to stay more on top of the goings-on at City Hall, where Meehan and City Council are in the process of updating the city’s Strategic Plan.

These out-of-area residents can track the conversations being had at City Hall by watching agendas and videos of council meetings that are available to stream through the city’s web site www.oceancitymd.gov/oc under the headings of “Government” and “Council Agendas and Videos.”


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