Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tillamook County Amends Vacation Rental Law

Tillamook County, Oregon is a heavily forested, mountainous county on the Pacific coast in the northern part of the state.  It is it known for its rural character, spectacular scenery, wild coastal landscapes, oysters, crab, salmon and Tillamook Cheese.  Tourism and eco-tourism are growing segments of the local economy, and many area businesses depend on a steady flow of visitors.  There are few hotels, and a large percentage of county visitors prefer to stay in local vacation rental homes.

In 2009 the county passed Ordinance # 69 - its first law that acknowledged the existence of vacation rentals and attempted to regulate them.   The law was passed after a 6 month long debate in the community between an organized group of short term rental owners, legislators who argued that the county had an interest in regulation of homes used for lodging of tourists, and some community members who sometimes argued for an outright ban on all existing vacation rentals.  During the debate, one such community member described VRs as "an affliction" in a public meeting of a county committee that was supposed to be working towards resolution of problems.

Early drafts of the proposed law would have devastated vacation rental owners and seriously hurt the local economy.  Although at first county officials would not discuss proposed laws with vacation rental representatives, eventually county officials started talking directly with VR owners and managers about their concerns, and a more functional ordinance was eventually drafted and approved.

Two years later the county decided to review the Ordinance.   A workshop was convened to discuss possible amendments.  Although proper legal notice was given for the workshop, no attempt was made to notify vacation representatives, and no representatives of vacation rentals knew about the workshop or attended.  A series of recommendations came out of the workshop and the county proceeded to draft amendments based on those recommendations.

A month later the news got out and vacation rental representatives started asking questions about what was going on. Proposed amendments included:
  • A county inspector would have the right to immediately shut down an operating vacation rental if he or she felt that the residence presented fire or life safety risks to its occupants.
  • Inspection fees would be charged for every inspection, instead of charging one fee for the first 2 inspections as originally agreed.  The change would effectively double inspection costs for a large number of owners, violating a promise that the county made to not increase rates by more than 5% per year.
  • If an operating vacation rental failed to pass during re-inspection for any reason, it would have to immediately discontinue rental operations.  Under the original law the operating vacation rental could continue to operate while it addressed any problems.
Further research about what had happened since the law passed in 2009 revealed that:
  • Even though the county had claimed that there might be up to 2500 VRs that would be regulated by the new law, only about 600 VRs had applied for permits.
  • Although there was speculation that additional "illegal" unpermitted VRs were operating in the county, in 2011 no one believed that there were very many of them.
  • The 600 VRs were generating about $90,000 per year in permit fees, and none of the fees collected were being used to directly benefit vacation rentals.  
  • Initial inspection fees in the first year may have added up to about $35,000 but were expected to decline to less than $10,000 per year after the intial batch of VRs were registered.
  • Very few complaints were being made to county staff about vacation rentals after the law passed.
  • No VR permits had been revoked by the county over the 2 years that the law had been in force.
  • The county had laid off the enforcement officer that was supposed to enforce the law due to budget concerns and the fact that there wasn't much for him to do.
  • Vacation rentals represented about 5% or less of the inspection work that the county does during each year.
  • Only a very small number of new vacation rentals attempt to get permits each month two years after the law was approved.
Those who had argued for the passage of the law suggested that the law was working, and that some provisions of the law help solve problems in the community before they become acute enough to require enforcement actions.

Initial reaction to this information by vacation rental proponents was that the lack of problems reported by the county suggested that the law was unnecessary.  Certainly many of them wondered why the law needed to be amended if there were so few problems.

The county brought the amendments to a Board of County Commissioners meeting on February 2nd for discussion, with the plan that it would give final approval to the amendments at its next meeting on February 15th.   A group representing VR owners and managers argued that the amendments had many problems, and that VR representative had been excluded from the process so far.  The county agreed to conduct a 2nd workshop that would include VR representatives in the week prior to the February 15th meeting.

The workshop took place, and many suggestions were given to county staff about the law.  The county redrafted its amendments for the 2/15/12 meeting, and the amendments were passed at the meeting with no further changes.

Doug Coates


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  2. Doug - Tillamook, having been there, is a lovely place. However, as you know, we are seeing VRs of the STR variety in dense, urban populations that are particularly zoned SF. This presents different challenges from a place like Tillamook, which is farming community, low density, and particular to tourism encouragement.

    Can you discuss the affects and potential changes to some of the ordinances and policies for these particular environments?

    Thank you,

  3. I've been following developments in New York City. I'll try to get some postings up for you soon.


Thoughtful comments are welcome, whether you are in favor of vacation rentals or concerned about the impacts of VRs on your community. Comments that contain advertising, including ads for properties, will be deleted.