Rehoboth proposes occupancy limits to address noise concerns

 Rehoboth Beach & Boardwalk (Photo courtesy of

Rehoboth Beach & Boardwalk (Photo courtesy of

In order to prevent noisy neighbors, the City of Rehoboth is considering an occupancy limit on rental homes. 

Rehoboth Beach has been a popular tourist destination for decades. Hundreds of families and singles flock to the Delaware town to enjoy the sand and waves, and the many businesses it has to offer.

But as more people rent out vacation homes, which often allow as many as 20 tenants, some neighbors are complaining about noise.

For several months the city has been discussing ways to alleviate the noise issues—now it’s contemplating an occupancy limit for vacation rental homes. Three bedrooms would be limited to 10 guests, four bedrooms to 12, and so on.

“I think the issue of noise, of parking, if you have eight or 10 people in a house there may be four, five, six, seven cars, the amount of trash produced by a large family coming to the beach for a week or longer, those are issues we need to address as part of rental ordinances,” said Commissioner Patrick Gossett.

The commission started to discuss ways to alleviate problems caused by overpopulated vacation homes last September.

Trees were cut down to install swimming pools at several houses, and residents started to complain about noise stemming from the outdoor activities. Commissioners also noticed new large properties that could fit as many as 20 people.

In an effort to ease some of the problems, the city of Rehoboth has made changes to zoning codes. Natural areas on lots were reduced from 50 percent to 40 percent, for example, and there have also been changes made to the city’s noise code.

For the first time, the city has established good neighbor brochures, which inform renters and residents what days trash is collected, how to get parking permits and what are considered “quiet hours.”

There will also be a vote to increase parking for houses based on the number of bathrooms in a house. Currently there are two parking spaces per unit, no matter the size of the house, which, the commissioners claim, clogs up street parking. However, the proposal has not been popular and likely will fail during a Friday meeting.

Commissioners are adamant that a rental ordinance is needed because city-wide standards don’t exist to manage rules of conduct, quiet hours, trash guidelines, parking requirements and occupancy requirements. A decision will be made on occupancy limits in a few months.

Joe Maggio of Maggio Shields Real Estate in Rehoboth Beach said there isn’t any evidence that the number of occupants in a rental home causes disorderly behavior.

“One noise complaint does not equal changing the code,” he said. “I think they’re jumping the gun and being reactive and instead of proactive.”

Enforcing a cap on the number of occupants ignores the fact Rehoboth is a resort town, and also discriminates against families, Maggio said. He said most homes his real estate company manages are rented for family vacations.

“I think by them limiting occupancy, I think they’re saying they don’t want families to vacation here,” Maggio said.

John Breslin, who has been renting his four bedroom home for the past two years, mostly to families, says renters don’t tell him how many guests they’re bringing and he doesn’t do a headcount.

“Normally two or three families rent together and you’ll get six adults and 10 kids, 12 kids, and they’ll throw all the kids in the living room and it’s one big happy family reunion,” Breslin said.

“There’s no way you can say, ‘Sorry I won’t rent to you because you have too many children.'”

Rehoboth Mayor Sam Cooper said policies need to be in place to prevent and control issues stemming from overpopulation. However, he doesn’t believe an occupancy limit is the best answer.

“I’m not a real big fan of occupancy limits, mostly because while I think the city could have some effect on the way properties are advertised, quite frankly once people are in the house I think it’s very hard to enforce,” Cooper said.

“In fact I don’t know how you’re going to enforce it.”

Breslin also said he believes enforcing an occupancy limit would be very difficult.

“It’s completely unenforceable,” he said. “We’re not going to count heads. We’re not going to show up at midnight and do a bed check.”

The city could establish a hotline that a person would call to complain about an issue like noise, Gossett said. The hotline agents could then call the owner or landlord to report the issue, and ask them to address it, he said.

“That allows police to do the job they’re supposed to do—keeping the community safe as opposed to tracking down noise complaints,” Gossett said.

Cooper said it’s important to discuss noise issues because his constituents’ needs should be a priority. He said he believes landlords have already started making efforts to address their concerns.

“I think a lot of the realtors and property owners have become more aware of how their property is used has a big impact on the neighbors and neighborhood,” Cooper said. “I think they’ve been more careful this summer and warned their tenants.”

Rehoboth has been a popular tourist attraction since the 1920s, Maggio said, and has always been a loud, busy area. That’s not likely to change any time soon, he said.

“The few people that come to town and decide to make it a quaint beach town have come to the wrong town,” Maggio said.

“It is what it always was and should be and we shouldn’t stop families from coming here and vacationing and enjoying. And the businesses are flourishing. That’s why we have the 13 best restaurants in the state of Delaware. That’s why these hotels are being built.”


Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal