Can Property Managers Help Guide Short-Term Rentals?

By: Ryan Bray

Topics: Orleans news , short-term rentals

Del Mar Vacations, which manages approximately 50 rental properties in Orleans, is now in its seventh season doing business on Cape Cod. RYAN BRAY PHOTO

ORLEANS – As talks continue over how to best regulate short-term rentals in town, including those managed by commercial businesses, one property has emerged as an example of what residents and officials are looking to avoid.

Beachside Properties closed on property at the intersection of Barley Neck Road and Sea Mist Drive in February. The property includes two homes, one with five-bedrooms and the other with four, as well as a pool, volleyball court and seating for outdoor dining and entertaining. It also allows for up to 20 occupants to rent the property at a time.

The property has been specifically cited numerous times by the select board and town officials in discussions about how to curb what is seen as the commercialization of residential neighborhoods. The rental of such properties, town officials say, brings noise, traffic and other disturbances into otherwise quiet neighborhoods, and goes beyond the typical homeowner-run and occupied vacation rentals that have long been commonplace in Orleans and across the Cape.

Brianna Seppala, co-owner of Beachside Properties, declined to comment on the record for this story.

The select board is working to draft a short-term rental bylaw to put before voters at the special town meeting on Oct. 17. Through the bylaw, the town hopes to create a framework for owners of properties large and small to rent them responsibly. That could mean requiring rental properties to be registered with the town for a fee, allowing inspections and other conditions governing parking and the number of allowable occupants and guests.

Town officials are especially concerned with reigning in rental activity through property management companies, particularly in cases where the homeowner lives off Cape. But local property management professionals say their businesses should not be made an example of. Rather, they feel they can help serve as a model for appropriate rental management.

Luke Chapman, for one, believes the town is on the right track in crafting short-term rental regulations. Chapman is the CEO of Orleans-based Del Mar Vacations, which manages 310 properties on the Cape from Falmouth to Provincetown, with approximately 50 in Orleans.

"I'm very much against the rhetoric, but the actual bylaw I think is A-minus work, and it could be best industry practice with a few revisions," he said, referring to draft language that has been discussed by the select board.

Del Mar's properties range in size from two-bedroom to seven-bedroom homes, Chapman said. In Orleans, he said the average is four bedrooms.

A cornerstone of responsible rental management is keeping a close watch on properties, Chapman said. While he said complaints about and issues with renters are rare, the company is ready to deal with problems first-hand.

Chapman said he and other Del Mar employees respond directly to any complaints from neighbors. If that fails, the company has language in their contracts with renters reserving the right to cancel their reservations if they are found in breach.

Property owners who are renting locally from out of state, meanwhile, should be required to hire someone locally to manage their rentals, he said.

"If you're a homeowner who runs an Airbnb from New York and you make $80,000, why shouldn't you pay even just a landscaper three or four grand a year to be your property manager?" Chapman said. "Of course we should be encouraging that behavior."

While concerns have been raised about commercial management of summer rentals, Chapman said the town could learn from Del Mar and other companies' best practices. For example, the company has a policy of disallowing the use of outdoor speakers as soon as a complaint is made about the noise. He said he also favors discussion the select board has had about having separate maximum occupancy regulations for people staying overnight and guests. If the number of guests were capped at five times the number of bedrooms in the rental, it would give police better grounds for enforcing issues that might arise, he said.

Town officials have also raised issues with noise that comes with landscaping, trash disposal and other commercial services that are frequently brought into neighborhoods to service rental properties, often early in the morning. Chapman said the town might consider allowing only weekly rentals from Saturday to Saturday during the summer season, with more flexibility for shorter rental periods in the offseason.

"Some people say it's the fox in the henhouse for you to be giving us advice," he said. "Well, if you look at our track record and our reputation, you might suggest otherwise. You might say 'Hey, these guys know what they're doing. Let's try and learn from them.'"

"I think we're going to hear most intimately from the people who have been [renting] for a long time...and frankly the management companies," Select Board Chair Andrea Reed said. "Some real estate companies have that management arm to them."

Reed said requiring property owners to register their rentals with the town is a critical first step toward striking a balance between people's right to rent out their properties and the need to protect the character of the town's neighborhoods. She said she expects property management companies to have a voice in that discussion.

Select board members are no strangers themselves to the business of seasonal renting, Reed said, noting that most if not all current members have rented out property at one point or another. But she said there needs to be boundaries. As an example, she said a street in town on which she used to live had half of its homes used as rental properties.

"What does that do to our neighborhoods?" she asked.

With registrations in place, Reed said the town could then focus on crafting guidelines for best practices for both private and commercial renters.

"That is a conversation I would imagine will take place over multiple meetings with multiple groups to hammer something out and confirm our thinking all the way through," she said.

As a local business owner, Chapman said Del Mar strives to be a good neighbor. That means being conscious of what is and isn't acceptable for the neighborhoods in which they operate. In the case of Del Mar, he said, it also means keeping dollars in Orleans by employing local workers and services.

"My payroll's on the Cape," he said. "We buy trucks on the Cape. We buy mulch and supplies for our homes. It's a gigantic economic trickle down."

Reed said she sees registration requirements as a good first step to helping the town quantify the issue and figure out how many seasonal rentals there are in town. The most recent count stands at 711, up from 671 last fall.

And with year round rentals in short supply in town, Reed said regulations could offer a way toward converting some seasonal rentals into ones that can be rented by full-time residents.

"That to me is the significant opportunity of just making the number of rental units visible."

But Reed points out that nothing is for certain unless the proposed bylaw is approved by town meeting voters in October.

"That's the beautiful part of the direct democracy that we have with town meeting and the ballot box," she said. "If we as the government start heading in the wrong direction, it doesn't go. There's got to be consensus, and if we haven't done the listening, then things don't go."

Email Ryan Bray at ryan@capecodchronicle.com