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Vacation rental housing has pros and cons

Allowing more Ashland residents to rent out their homes to tourists for short-term stays could boost the local economy and city lodging tax revenue, but it also could hurt neighborhoods, drive up home prices and lead to a shortage of regular rental housing, according to a city staff report on the largely under-the-radar vacation rental housing industry in town.

With so many pros and cons to weigh, the City Council decided on Monday night to have the Planning Commission investigate the issue and recommend whether vacation rental housing laws should be loosened.

Under current rules, people can rent their homes to tourists for short stays — fewer than 30 days — if their homes are in business or multifamily zones with access to parking and major streets.

Property owners in those zones must go through a land-use process and win approval for renting their homes to tourists, but many don't.

People in single-family housing zones cannot rent their homes for short-term stays, although many are doing so illegally.

In May, the city sent out letters to about 40 property owners in multi- and single-family zones who are renting their homes to tourists illegally. Staff members caught most of the illegal operators by checking popular websites that advertise vacation home rentals.

No one knows for sure how many homes are being used illegally in town, but estimates range from at least 50 to more than 150.

Councilors expressed mixed views about easing restrictions during a Monday night study session, although they agreed the Planning Commission should investigate and gather public input.

Councilor David Chapman said vacation rental housing provides a unique and valued lodging option for tourists.

"When I travel, that's the way I travel," he said.

Chapman said in his experience, vacation rental housing is exceptionally well-maintained, which benefits the appearance of neighborhoods.

"It's not going to be like a frat house," he said.

Councilors Carol Voisin and Mike Morris said they were concerned that loosening laws could impact the availability of regular rental housing.

The staff report on vacation rentals said that homeowners can often earn more money renting their homes out to tourists than they can from operating traditional rentals. As more homeowners turn to vacation rentals, housing prices can go up and the availability of traditional rentals can go down.

Voisin said she was also concerned about additional strain on the city's infrastructure.

Several councilors and Mayor John Stromberg said they were worried about impacts on neighborhoods.

"I wouldn't want to go forward unless neighborhoods are consulted," Voisin said.

According to the staff report, the average household in Ashland has 2.03 people, while six people generally stay each night in a vacation rental.

Supporters of vacation rentals have said they expand lodging choices for visitors, especially people traveling with family members and friends, and provide a boost to the local economy as those people spend money in town.

Councilors Dennis Slattery and Greg Lemhouse said if Ashland does loosen vacation rental laws, it should work to level the playing field for bed and breakfast inns.

Inn owners have said illegal vacation rental owners have an unfair advantage because they are not collecting lodging taxes from visitors, haven't won land-use approval, don't have business licenses or liability insurance, and don't have to undergo health and safety inspections.

In a position paper on unlicensed vacation home rentals, Ashland's Bed & Breakfast Network said its members want those issues addressed so they can compete on a level playing field with the vacation home rental owners.

Gold Beach, Lincoln City and Yachats allow vacation home rentals in single-family zones, according to staff research. Bandon, Cannon Beach and Depoe Bay do not allow the rentals in single-family zones.

Depoe Bay residents banned the rentals in single-family zones via a ballot measure 15 years ago, staff said.

Tourists towns in Oregon generally allow the rentals in multifamily zones, although Lincoln City is considering limiting the short-term rentals to specific districts, according to staff research.

To read the city staff report, as well as documents submitted by proponents of vacation rentals and the bed and breakfast inn industry, visit www.dailytidings.com/vacation-rentals-report.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldus can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.