Lewes continues to define short-term rental

Rental companies seeking to differentiate their vacation rentals from services like Airbnb and Vrbo may not get their wish after a July 14 meeting in Lewes.

Gallo Realty and Jack Lingo Realtor have been renting vacation homes in Lewes for decades, and according to Adriane Gallagher, Gallo’s rental department manager in Lewes, most clients stay for around a week. Airbnb and Vrbo offer rentals for as little as one night on their platforms.

Going forward, the city’s ad hoc short-term rental committee will follow the Delaware code short-term rental threshold of 119 days or less. Officials believe the final number of days to set a short-term rental will be lower, but Commissioner Winnie Kee pointed to a successful lawsuit against the town of Fenwick Island, where plaintiffs cited the code’s 120-day threshold of Delaware in their arguments.

Councilwoman Carolyn Jones, chair of the committee, agreed that Lewes should err on the side of caution to avoid lawsuits. Jones said city attorney Glenn Mandalas should consider legal options before placing an exact number of days on the definition.

Consultant Jeffrey Goodman said other municipalities have used residence type in their definition. A hotel or bed and breakfast would not qualify under the legal definition of short-term rental because their property is zoned commercial. Properties that fall under the common definition of short-term rentals come in many different forms. Under Delaware code, vacation rentals, one-bedroom owner renting, and entire properties for rent fall under the category of short-term rentals as long as the duration is less than 120 days. Committee members could define each type of short-term rental and the criteria to be met in order to operate.

Lewes homeowners associations may have their own rules regarding short-term rentals, City Manager Ann Marie Townshend said. Resident Chip Davis asked if neighborhoods like Pilottown Village could create their own short-term rental threshold. Townshend said Lewes would have no ability to control this; if an HOA wishes to reduce their definition to 30 days, they can. There would also be no method of enforcement by Lewes, as city officials would still adhere to 120 days. Any violation of the HOA agreement is meant to be enforceable through deed restraints, and the courts can be used to validate an association’s policy.

Rebecca Sitarchuk, who owns a home in historic Lewes, said she bought a home with the community in mind and doesn’t think short-term rentals add to the community. The historic district does not have an HOA, and Sitarchuk said residents’ desires are represented by the mayor and city council. Sitarchuk would like the ordinance to eliminate short-term rentals in the Historic District.

The next committee meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Tuesday, July 26. The group plans to continue discussing how an ordinance will fit Lewes Beach properties. Officials highlighted the distinctly different areas of Lewes and the importance of meeting the needs of each location.