The local REALTOR® association representing three counties on Maryland’s Eastern Shore was aware that Worcester County was looking to overhaul its outdated rental code, but was expecting the effort to focus on clarity and uniformity of language. What was presented was a set of severe restrictions on short-term rentals, which is naturally a major issue in coastal communities. When some of the County Commissioners proved unreceptive to the REALTORS®’ initial advocacy, it was time to call on the Land Use Initiative and Advocacy Everywhere programs. The County Commission heard the message loud and clear, and sent its proposal back to the drawing board.
Sarah Rayne, Government and Public Affairs Director of the 1,000+ member Coastal Association of REALTORS® of Maryland, recalls the list of restrictions the County Commission was proposing: “They wanted to limit the number of ‘unrelated’ people in a short-term rental unit to five; to require all short-term rental units to install an extra parking space; to define ‘short-term’ as under twenty-eight days; and even to prohibit birthday parties, showers, and other special events. The REALTORS®’ position is that a short-term rental is still residential, and so all these restrictions were simply unfair.” The ordinance also sought to create a rental license requirement, which Rayne notes that the REALTORS® do not oppose, as long as the fee is not exorbitant.
While the REALTORS® have strong relationships with most of the Worcester County Commissioners, it was clear that their first efforts at direct advocacy were not getting through to some. So, Rayne commissioned a Land Use Initiative review of the proposed ordinance to analyze land use and zoning legislation. “I’ve worked with them a number of times, and they’re always great – they seem to thrive on tight deadlines,” she says. “This time, they sent us sixteen pages of very useful information, which we condensed into a brief position statement and sent to our members, the media, and the County Commissioners.”
Just a few days prior to the vote, some of the Commissioners were still resistant to the REALTORS®’ reasoning. “That’s when we realized, ‘Ok – we need to get our members involved!’” says Rayne. “We’re a small association, but our members are great, and very supportive of our Government Affairs efforts and advocacy.” Rayne called on Susan Mitchell, Director of Government Affairs for the Maryland REALTORS®, who activated an Advocacy Everywhere effort using REALTOR® Party Mobile Alerts. “It’s such an effective program,” says Rayne, “it was very easy for our members to respond.” And respond they did: the alert went out on a Friday, and over the course of the weekend, the seven Worcester County Commissioners were bombarded by more than 630 emails from 90 unique addresses.
At the next meeting of the County Commission, several members of the Coastal Association of REALTORS® of Maryland were present and testified on behalf of property owners.
The Commission voted to approve the creation of a rental license and sent the rest of the proposed ordinance back to staff for re-drafting. “They’ll be addressing many of the REALTORS®’ concerns in the re-write,” explains Rayne, adding, “It was a definite win for property owners and our members. I’m certain that our call for action made a big difference.” Although the association is small, she says, REALTOR® Party resources help it achieve results that are relatively major. “I’m a big fan of all these tools that allow us to create such an impact!”
To learn more about how the Coastal Association of REALTORS® of Maryland is protecting the rights of homeowners in Worcester County and beyond, contact Government and Public Affairs Director Sarah Rayne at 410-641-4409.