Editorial: Vacation rentals need thoughtful regulation

The explosion of vacation rentals in Bend presents the city with a classic balancing act among conflicting interests.

It demands close study to determine what regulations can protect neighborhoods without unduly restraining property owners who want to participate in this growing aspect of our tourism economy.

The opportunity for short-term rentals is an financial boon for some homeowners and a meaningful expansion of options for visitors. But problems for neighbors and neighborhoods grow as more and more homes are used this way.

As Bulletin reporter Hillary Borrud wrote Tuesday, some neighbors are feeling overwhelmed by noise, cars and a series of strangers coming and going. In one short stretch of NW Riverfront Street, nine homes are now vacation rentals. A resident on NW Federal Street is surrounded on three sides by vacation rentals. Citywide, Borrud found at least 358 vacation-home rentals as of Aug. 20.

Worse than the noise and the cars, some say, is the loss of a sense of community and neighborhood. As City Councilor Doug Knight wrote in a recent letter to The Bulletin, “Neighborhood character may actually be the most important and treasured aspect of our community … the true ethos of Bend.”

Bend’s regulation of such rentals is relatively low-key. Land use approval carries a $454 fee, lodging taxes are due, each home must have one off-street parking spot per bedroom, and visitors must follow the city’s noise ordinance, among others. Some of these are difficult to enforce, given the demands on police time, which means tightening or expanding them are unlikely to solve growing problems.

Some communities, though, have enacted far more extensive restrictions. In Ashland, for example, minimal rental is 30 days. Manzanita caps density at 17.5 percent of homes citywide, and Depoe Bay and Seaside limit the areas where vacation rentals are permitted.

Bend will need a full understanding of resident and visitor experience as it tries to determine the best choices for this city. Knight suggested upcoming meetings of the Bend Planning Commission as a forum for a full airing of these and other neighborhood issues. A series of public meetings specifically focused on vacation rentals may be needed, as well as a study of what has been tried in other places.

What is obvious is that the relatively laissez-faire approach that has sufficed so far is no longer enough. The city must focus on protecting its neighborhoods without damaging its tourism economy.