Chesapeake Beach, a small town along the Chesapeake Bay in Calvert County, Maryland, less than an hour from Washington, D.C., is a popular tourist destination for families looking to escape the city.
“When you come down that hill and see the bay, all your worries go away,” Mayor Pat “Irish” Mahoney said.
The mayor says his town is a big draw for both tourists and full-time residents.
“Chesapeake Beach is a charming residential town that attracts seniors to spend their golden years and young adults to raise their families,” Mahoney said.
The mayor says he welcomes visitors to his quiet town, but this summer was different.
“It’s the summer of COVID, and we were noticing that many of the out-of-state visitors from … hot spots that were not permitted to go to the Jersey beaches and the Delaware beaches were ending up in these party houses that they were just popping up,” Mahoney said.
So on July 30, the town issued a notice to its residents, reminding them that short-term rentals were not permitted in the town. That notice caught resident Josh Johnson off guard. He has been renting out two homes on Airbnb for about a year-and-a-half and says a lot of neighbors are, too.
“From my estimation, there’s about 20-25, maybe even up to 30, that are directly here in the Chesapeake Beach area,” Johnson said.
Bernadette Antoine, a preschool teacher from Prince George’s County, bought a cottage in Chesapeake Beach last year. She plans to retire in it and was depending on short-term rentals to help pay the bills until she moves there full-time.
“I basically put all of my cash into it to buy and then to fix it up so you know it looks good for anyone who comes in to rent it and was hoping that I would make the money back up and this has been done,” Antoine said.
The ban on short-term rentals isn’t new. These homeowners say they didn’t know about it because it is not spelled out in black and white anywhere on the town’s website.
There’s a “Rental Code” section on the site, but that page is blank. The town administrator told News4 short-term rentals are banned by the Housing Code. We searched the code but didn’t see any mention of short-term rentals there, only a definition of a rental as being 30 days or more.
The town says before the current Housing Code was passed in 2019, vacation rentals were banned by the town’s Zoning Code.
Johnson has started an online petition, hoping to convince town leaders to change the law. He says homeowners aren’t the only ones losing out because of the ban.
Kelly Schaefer is a single mother of three children. She owns a cleaning company called Quality Clean and says she’s losing up to $2,000 a month in business without the short-term rentals.
“I have to decide, do I take the cut in pay myself or do I release some of my employees?” Schaefer said.
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Johnson is also concerned about the impact on local restaurants. Bobby Abner, the owner of Abner’s Crab House, said he supports short-term rentals. “All businesses are good for us,” Abner said.
Mahoney said the ban actually helps the town’s hotels and restaurants. “They employ town citizens, and if people are coming down in illegal party houses with their own food and their own beverages, the town residents are gonna be unemployed because the hotel will be sitting vacant."
Johnson and Antoine are now faced with the tough decision of what comes next for them and their future in Chesapeake Beach.
“Well it’s going to put us in a situation where we’re going to have to sell our house,” Johnson said. “And it’s ultimately going to put us in a situation where we’re going to have to understand if this is a place for us.”