Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Citizens Rejects Vacation Rental Restrictions in Lincoln City, Oregon

Lincoln City Oregon was once described at a national meeting about vacation rental regulation as the poster child for poorly thought out attempts to regulate VRs.  Animosity by city officials towards the city's own century-long tradition of offering tourists the option to stay in local homes, has been going on for quite some time.  Local businesses and VR owners and even concerned local citizens have put up strong opposition to the latest new restrictions that have been proposed over the last 4 years.

Tourism is the city's # 1 source of economic prosperity, and almost everyone in the city, other than local city officials themselves, seems to think these recent proposals to regulate VRs would damage the tourism trade.

The former anti-VR mayor did one thing right, when he hired a "consensus builder" to bring a group of 20 local citizens together to work towards resolution of controversies about VRs, and make recommendations back to the city.  But when the citizens group stated that VRs were a significant contributor to the local economy, recommended simplification of the laws and recommended that the city identify what problems it was trying to solve before it wrote new regulations, the mayor and his council members were unhappy, and most of what their own citizens group had to say in their final report was ignored.

At the end of 2014, the city's anti-VR mayor was replaced with a mayor who promised a more constructive approach to VR regulation, but much of the city council remained closed-minded about VRs.  Last winter the council continued with its effort to restrict VRs, and passed laws that would have eventually restricted a large number of short term rental to renting only 30 days per year.

Frustration boiled over and local citizens, working with the Oregon Association of Vacation Rentals, filed LUBA (land use) appeals against 3 of the new ordinances, and filed with the state to do a Referendum Petition that they hoped would result in repeal of 2 of the new laws at the next public election in the city.  About 430 signatures were required by the state in order to force the new local VR ordinances onto the ballot for repeal.

Over 800 signatures were collected, and on May 19th, 2015, the vote was held.  The pro-VR crowd won the day with a respectable 7% margin, and both of the city's new laws have been repealed as a result.

This leaves the city with the old regulations on VRs still in place.  Not good, but better than the alternative of only being able to rent 30 days per year.  But city officials are very unhappy that their effort was rejected by their own citizens, and the city's lawyer insists that the old laws still allow city officials to restrict the number of days that VRs can be rented.  He pledges to start issuing expensive fines against VR owners based on his questionable legal theory.

What will happen next?   Hundreds of thousands of dollars and untold hours have been wasted on finding a solution for a "VR problem" that city officials refuse to identify.  One would think that city officials would move on to deal with other issues at this point, but that doesn't appear to be what is happening.

Local citizens are unhappy with the city's threat to continue pursuing restrictions, despite the clear rejection of the idea by local voters.  If city officials won't listen to their own citizens, maybe its time for new leadership in the city.

Stay tuned.

Doug Coates
The Oregon Association of Vacation Rentals

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