BETHEL — New proposed requirements for short term rentals will be discussed when the Bethel Ordinance Review Committee meets on at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 21.

The owner of this single family home at 62 Main St. in Bethel said she “would prefer not to comment.” about the home they’ve owned for two years and rent for short stays. Rose Lincoln/Bethel Citizen

“Short-term rental properties are one of the community’s strongest assets. These properties create an expandable bed-base consisting of a wide range of accommodation options that attract many different types of visitors. These visitors dine in our restaurants, shop in our stores, and, hopefully, if they have an enjoyable experience, choose to come back to establish their own roots in our community,” said Matt Hiebert,  managing partner of Maine Ski Lodging Company.

Last week after writing to five or six real estate brokers about the proposed ordinance, Code Enforcement Officer Randy Thurston said, “I got responses within five minutes, so they are panicked about it.”

Hiebert said his response to Thurston was, “not out of panic as he [Thurston] publicly speculated, but rather an example of the responsiveness we, as short-term rental managers, choose to operate; whether it be to a property owner or visitor reaching out with a question about the area or the property, or to a town official requesting information.”

Bethel STR’s

There is limited information locally about the number of short term rentals in Bethel  and if that number is growing. Bethel has not registered short term rentals in the past. “Currently the town of Bethel has no policies regarding STR’s, no registration, no inspections,” said Thurston.


AirDNA is a data analytics company that offers Airbnb renters and other short term rental owners a better understanding of the market. According to its analytics, there are 276 active rentals in Bethel and the surrounding area. (Properties in surrounding towns are sometimes listed as Bethel.)

While AirDNA lists 276, this number is not absolute. A count of STR’s on Airbnb alone is 300 . Another 59 are listed on VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner).

Seventy-five rentals are listed on Maine Ski Lodging Company; Peak’s Properties lists 50; Connecting Bethel lists 56; Fours Season Rentals lists 51. Importantly, these properties are in the Bethel area, not just in Bethel. Additionally, individuals list their property without the help of a company.

Further skewing the numbers is that many individual owners and realtors cross-list their properties on other sites (like Airbnb and VRBO).


Hiebert said, “We have experienced a consistent 20% annual net increase of properties under our rental management each year for the last five years.”


The annual growth data on AirDNA is worth noting: 39% on Airbnb and 22% on VRBO. The data also includes cross listing by these two companies of 39%.

AirDNA shows a 54.5% leap in annual growth by Maine Ski Lodging Company; 26.7% annual growth by Peak Properties and 28.6% annual growth by Vasaca, a national vacation rental management company. Other local companies are not listed in the data.

Rabbu,  like AirDNA, is a “short-term rental technology company that helps investors find, operate, and sell their short-term rental portfolios.”

Rabbu does not break down each rental company’s growth, but confirms an increase. According to Rabbu, in January of 2023, there are 283 listings (178 active listings) at the zip code 04217.

In September of 2021, the number of active listings was 55, according to Rabbu.

Area ordinances


Close to home, and nearer to Mt Abram, Greenwood selectmen briefly talked about an ordinance when, a resident was “concerned about her neighborhood homes being rented out. She asked the Board to consider a registry. She thought if there were issues with someone staying at a rental, the neighbor could check with the Town and contact the property owner to report an issue,” said, Kim Sparks, town manager, “the Board decided to see if there were any other reports of problems before implementing a policy.”

In Newry, where Sunday River is located, Loretta Powers, town manager wrote, that they have been talking about STR’s, “but have not made any decisions on how to deal with them.”

Five months ago Gray adopted an ordinance that requires registration of short term rentals,  “The Town of Gray seeks to balance the desire of property owners to rent their properties to short-term tenants and the desire of residents to preserve the character of their residential neighborhoods.”

In coastal towns, where ordinances are being adopted rapidly, the problem can be acute because when residential properties are only occupied for short summer stints, businesses can only make money those two or three months of the year. This in turn makes it difficult to attract businesses at all.

Additionally, STR’s attract investors and investment properties drive up real-estate prices, making it unaffordable for local residents to live in the town where they work.

Hiebert, offered a different concern, “Safety, and offering safe properties is extremely important to us and we inspect each property prior to each guest arrival. Third party inspections wouldn’t be unwelcomed; however, there is concern that this practice could transfer liability onto the town or the third party who conducted the inspection should the inspection contain inaccuracies.”


These are the top 10 reasons for not passing a short term rental inspection in Bar Harbor. Screenshot taken from the town’s website

Within the past few years, Portland, Freeport, Bar Harbor and other towns have instituted new regulations to limit short term rentals in their towns. Like Gray, registration of short term rentals with the town is a requirement. In some cases, restrictions on the overall number of STR’s has been adopted, too.

All short term rentals must be registered by May 31 in Bar Harbor and must be inspected following registration. The town has capped the the short-term rental units that are not occupied by the owner at 9% of the total units in town, with a minimum length of stay of four nights. Owner-occupied rentals are allowed with fewer restrictions.

Bar Harbor and Bethel resident, Michael Boland, owner of The Elizabeth Inn and Restaurant, said, “We have a rule against weekly rentals in Bar Harbor. They are allowed, they are grandfathered. They can only be 9% of our housing stock. If there are a thousand houses only 90 can be weekly rentals [Airbnb, VRBO or another platform].

Until it falls below 90, there are no more weekly rental permits given out. And you have to get a permit. Here you don’t.  I think Bethel would be wise to look at that. You should look at what Bar Harbor’s done and what it has done to Bar Harbor. There are whole neighborhoods that are empty [because visitors are coming primarily for the summer] … we don’t want hotels in every neighborhood. The cap was too late [in Bar Harbor], here it’s not too late.”

Boland and Mountain Social owners Cody and Lina Gordon, bought houses in Bethel for staff to live.

In Portland all short term rentals must be registered and there is a $1,000 fine for providing false information on the registration form. Additionally, the city caps the number of short term rentals that are not owner-occupied, at 400.


Freeport requires owner and property information, emergency contact information, proof of occupancy limits, and documentation of how their off-street parking requirement will be met. They require evacuation plans, too.

Additionally, removal of solid waste within a week of occupancy is required. Noise restrictions are in place and general liability insurance of not less than $1 million while renting is required, too. Advertising a short term rental must be consistent with the ordinance requirements. The owner must post the short term rental registration certificate in their home.

Finally, the total number of annual registrations issued by the Freeport town clerk is limited to 300 per registration cycle, with preference given to renewals.

Other cities and towns (Cape Elizabeth, Kennebunkport, Brunswick, and Rockland) are adopting ordinances that require registration of STR’s, and in some cases, adding a moratorium to the number of rentals. The language and restrictions in each of the ordinances varies.

The ordinance we are writing, “would have to pass through the Select Board, a lawyer, and the town meeting.” said Thurston.

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