A small state with a diverse natural environment, Delaware draws much of its economic strength from summer tourism at its southern beaches. When the global public health crisis brought normal activities to a halt early in the year, the state’s real estate professionals knew that public safety comes first, but viewed the approaching beach season with concern.
As the season drew closer, Governor Carney stood firm on a mandatory 14-day quarantine period for out-of-state visitors and extended a ban on short-term rentals through July 1. It became clear to REALTORS® that they had to explore options with him. A task force formed by the Sussex County Association of REALTORS® (SCAOR), where the state’s beach resorts are concentrated, got to work — and turned the tide.
REALTORS® were eager to see the state’s seasonal economy safely revived, but were also concerned that many who act as summer rental agents were on the brink of being sued by would-be visitors who were losing their deposits as well as their vacations.
“In Sussex, we had rental guests calling to cancel their long-booked vacation rental reservations — even into late summer and fall — because of the uncertainty surrounding what they would or would not be able to do while in Delaware,” explained SCAOR President Sandi Bisgood.
Bisgood put together a Short-Term Rental Task Force chaired by REALTOR® Allison Stine and supported by Delaware’s state association 2020 President Beau Zebley.
Zebley describes the work of the task force as “amazing.”
“They invited the governor for a virtual meeting, and he accepted right away,” he said. “On that call, they listened to his concerns and took the opportunity to educate him about Delaware’s short-term rental market and the importance of the timelines that lead the market. It was a highly productive and solution-oriented meeting, with a priority on safety. Governor Carney heard them and asked for data.”
To meet the request for data, the task force took on a major research and analysis effort, spending late nights and long days seeking information.
Meanwhile, REALTORS® were lobbying state and local legislators on an individual basis, according to Sara Elalamy, the Delaware Association of REALTORS® Government Affairs Director and Chief Lobbyist.
“Working together, we also coordinated a complex Call for Action (CFA) through the REALTOR® Party’s Advocacy Everywhere program. That effort consisted of five separate CFAs: one from each of Delaware’s three local REALTOR® associations that directed messages to the governor, state legislators, and county council members; one public-facing campaign for REALTOR® members with a link to share; and one targeting county council members in resort-dense Sussex County,” Elalamy explained.
When they presented their data to the governor, it showed that a ‘soft opening’ in June would allow for a gradual ‘dimmer switch’ effect that he favored over a sudden start, with the data clearly indicating that, historically, occupancy rates for short-term rentals are relatively low from May through June.
“We were able to demonstrate to Governor Carney that we could be effective in not only providing a safe rental property experience for guests and owners, but also effectively partner with the State to prepare our rental guests to enjoy Delaware’s beaches, shops, and restaurants in a safe and sane way,” Bisgood said.
The day after the Short-Term Rental Task Force presented its report to the governor, he cited information from the REALTORS® at a press conference. The following day, he lifted the ban on short-term rentals and moved the end of out-of-state quarantine from July 1 up to June 1. Both actions were met with a sigh of relief and gratitude throughout the REALTOR® family.
“Thanks to their efforts, the ban on short-term rentals will have only had a temporary impact on the industry, the market, and the state’s broader economy,” Elalamy said.
Zebley added that “Our members have proven to be responsive, cooperative, and resourceful partners. The relationship we previously built with the governor and his staff has been strengthened by our working together for the good of the state and its people.”
To learn more about how Delaware REALTORS® have helped inform the governor’s critical policy decisions with their industry and market expertise, contact Government Affairs Director & Chief Lobbyist Sara Elalamy at 443-567-8319.