By Marina Starleaf Riker

The Bulletin

Despite spending five months and more than $134,000 to develop laws to crack down on vacation rentals, some Bend city councilors aren’t happy with the outcome and want to take the issue up again.

At a meeting last week, several city councilors said it’s time to re-evaluate vacation rental rules. Mayor Jim Clinton said a large number of rentals are still hurting some neighborhoods and asked city staff to explore reducing their numbers.

“What is best for an individual isn’t necessarily best for the whole community,” said Clinton.

As websites like Airbnb and VRBO have boomed in popularity in recent years, visitors to Bend are increasingly opting for vacation rentals instead of hotels. But some Bend residents say the rentals are a nuisance to neighbors and have replaced long-term housing in a city faced with a severe rental shortage.

In response, a city task force created new rules in 2015 to curb the proliferation of the rentals. Under the law, two rentals can’t be within 250 feet of each other if approved after April 2015. Rental owners must also purchase an operating license from the city, which must be annually renewed.

Right now, there are more than 680 licensed vacation rentals — a slightly smaller number than the number of vacation rentals prior to the rule change. But some city councilors say new laws are needed to reduce the numbers.

“In some neighborhoods, it may not be a problem to allow these things to continue unabated,” said Clinton. “But in some neighborhoods, it might be a big problem.”

Clinton said it should be up to the next City Council to amend the rules passed in 2015.

Right now, vacation rental permits are tied to a property, not an individual owner — when a property is sold, the permit continues with the new owner as long as it was approved before April 2015. Some city councilors say that grandfather clause should be removed to help protect older neighborhoods in Bend.

Figuring out a way to phase out licenses over a period of time or creating a lottery system to get a license could be other options to explore, Clinton said.

“You could imagine a situation where somebody is an investor who doesn’t even live there,” said Clinton. “From the community’s view, they might not have the right to operate a short-term rental in perpetuity.”

But cutting down on the number of existing rentals is easier said than done. Due to state laws, the new regulations, which are intended to limit density, cannot retroactively apply to existing rentals. City attorneys have warned that attempting to apply new land use rules to existing rentals could open the city to lawsuits.

Due to state requirements for notifying neighbors, the earliest a rule change could take place would be sometime next year, said City Manager Eric King.

­— Reporter: 541-633-2160, mriker@bendbulletin.com

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