Several North Coast residents and public officials have fired back against a state Senate bill that would prohibit local governments from enforcing vacation rental regulations.
Introduced by state Sen. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, Senate Bill 621 would allow any home to become a vacation rental. The bill would still allow cities and counties to require people operating vacation rentals to register with the local government and pay the lodging tax.
In a public hearing on Tuesday in Salem, Girod said he believes the bill would help address a shortage of short-term housing for people in transitional parts of their lives, like a college student who needs a place to stay for a week between semesters or someone waiting to move into a new home.
The bill also aims to help more people use their home as a vacation rental to generate income, Girod said.
Although Girod has a second home in Depoe Bay, he said he doesn’t intend to rent it out.
“Any way that an owner can make a few dollars to offset the cost is beneficial,” the senator said.
But the bill has met with significant opposition, with many on the North Coast writing that they feel the legislation would largely negate the controls cities have developed over the years to balance the vacation rental industry with the needs of full-time residents.
The bill would likely make local regulations like Astoria’s homestay lodging policy unenforceable. The policy requires owners to be on-site when they have renters.
“Reasonable restrictions on short-term rentals are essential to prevent Astoria from suffering the fate of other coastal communities whose residents are slowly but steadily being driven out in favor of commercial rental property owners,” Astoria Mayor Bruce Jones wrote in a letter.
“Astoria has taken steps to create reasonable restrictions on short-term rentals through a public process, and prohibiting our ability to take such steps will result in a more rapid increase in the cost of permanent housing for residents, and a significant degradation of the unique small town qualities which make Astoria a desirable location for visitors and residents alike.”
The legislation would impact cities like Gearhart and Manzanita, which have both capped the number of rentals, and interfere with Seaside’s practice of only allowing vacation rentals in certain zones as a conditional use.
“Please do not take away these tools from the communities. Each community has unique issues that make an over-arching prohibition even more contrary to the livability goals that are identified in each town’s comprehensive plan,” Seaside City Councilor Tom Horning wrote. “SB 621 protects outside real estate investors and corporate interests at the expense of community livability and affordability, and it heads off potential solutions to these problems.
“Allow us to handle our problems without outside interference.”
Proponents of the bill argue that the role vacation rentals play in the housing crunch is overstated, and that the vacation rental industry creates jobs, brings in tax revenue and allows people to afford their homes.
Colleen Easlon, who operates vacation rentals out of Port Orford, told the Senate businesses like hers play an integral role in supporting a local tourism economy.
“The industry has been fantastic for our little community,” Easlon said.
But organizations like the League of Oregon Cities and the Oregon Coast Alliance are concerned about the broader implications the bill could have for livability and long-term land use planning.
Gutting a local government’s control over how it can resolve or mitigate disputes between visitors and residents will lead to more community tension, said Cameron La Follette, executive director of the Oregon Coast Alliance.
“It would eliminate the ability of residents and local governments to regulate livability, which is terrible for a land use program and a disaster for people on the coast,” La Follette said.
Taking away a city’s ability to decide where and how vacation rentals should operate reduces the ability to keep the integrity of commercial and residential zones, said Erin Doyle, an intergovernmental relations associate with the League of Oregon Cities.
“There’s an expectation when you buy a home in a residential area it will be residential, not a commercial area … and (vacation rentals) are businesses,” Doyle said.
Many cities have spent years working on regulations that address these issues, and that independence should be respected, Doyle said.
“To have it all undone would reopen a lot of wounds for cities who adopted policies they are now getting used to ... and those cities who don’t want (vacation rental regulations) just don’t have them,” she said. “There’s no need for a state pre-emption.”