The number of Airbnb visitors and listings in Ellsworth and Bar Harbor has grown steadily over the past three years.
ELLSWORTH AMERICAN GRAPHIC BY KATE COUGH
ELLSWORTH — Ellsworth and Bar Harbor were among the top-five busiest and most profitable Airbnb destinations statewide in 2017.
According to data provided to The American by Airbnb, hosts in Ellsworth and Bar Harbor had a higher median income than anywhere else in the state.
A total of 284,500 guests used the online rental platform to book rooms in Maine in 2017, up from 85,400 in 2015. According to Airdna, a private company that analyzes data on Airbnb, properties in Ellsworth brought in $1.9 million in revenue from the site, while properties in Bar Harbor grossed a total of $4.3 million. Revenue in Ellsworth was up 78 percent in 2017 compared to 2016 while revenue in Bar Harbor increased 84 percent over the same time period. The company uses an algorithm that takes into account the number of booked days, the cost of a room for the day and the cleaning fee.
The 2017 median income for hosts in Bar Harbor was the highest in the state at $16,000, with Ellsworth coming in second at $9,900. Portland had the third highest median income at $9,800, and the statewide average was $6,900. Visitors to Ellsworth and Bar Harbor who booked with the platform stayed an average of three days — a day longer than those visiting Portland.
Communities around the state have struggled to deal with an influx of short-term rental units, with some implementing restrictions in an effort to address residents’ concerns. Portland has a 300-unit citywide cap on non-owner occupied, short-term rentals and requires registration.
South Portland recently voted to ban these types of rentals in certain areas. Camden, Rockland and Cape Elizabeth also have put in place a variety of regulations.
Bar Harbor implemented ordinances in 2006 requiring that short-term rentals be registered, although the town faced a backlash from some property owners who felt that the rules infringed on property rights. The current ordinance requires that all vacation rentals (units rented for fewer than 30 days) be registered and inspected once.
Ellsworth City Manager David Cole said Ellsworth does not have plans to regulate short-term rentals, and that to his knowledge there had not been talks of restrictions.
“I don’t get the sense that it’s been a big issue here,” Cole said.
Ellsworth City Planner Michele Gagnon said there’s a strong tradition of renting camps and lakeside cabins in Maine, and she wasn’t sure whether online platforms had changed the nature of rentals in the region.
“Is there a real problem or a perceived problem?” Gagnon asked. “We don’t want to regulate something that’s imaginary.” Gagnon stressed that the real issue is health and safety, which she said should be a consideration for all who rent their homes regardless of how they choose to do so.
Ellsworth has gotten a handful of complaints from residents uncomfortable with their neighbors renting via Airbnb, but Code Enforcement Officer Lori Roberts said there are no rules on the books to regulate these kinds of properties, and that ordinances would be difficult to enforce if they did exist.
“I can’t differentiate between a family coming for the weekend and somebody renting just because they’re paying money,” Roberts said. “It’s not something we have much control over, at least with the ordinances we have now.”
Roberts also agreed with Gagnon that Maine has a strong tradition of weekly rentals and that it would be unlikely the city would take steps to regulate them unless they became a problem.
According to Airdna, the highest-grossing property in Bar Harbor was a five-bedroom home downtown that rents for $744 a night and brought in over $90,817 in 2017. Each of the top-10 properties in Bar Harbor took in over $45,000 in revenue. The top property in Ellsworth, a five-bedroom home on the Union River that retails at $398 per night, brought in $56,942.