The Ashland City Council will debate whether to loosen restrictions on homeowners who want to rent out their homes to tourists for short stays.
The council meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Ashland Civic Center Council Chambers, 1175 E. Main St.
Spurred by the growth of websites that connect homeowners with tourists, many Ashland residents have begun renting out their homes for short stays — often illegally.
The Ashland Planning Commission and planning department staff have recommended allowing vacation rentals in multi-family zones in Ashland's four historic districts, which comprise the downtown and many surrounding streets.
The owners would have to go through a planning process and secure conditional-use permits.
Vacation rentals are allowed in multi-family zones if the homes are within 200 feet of major streets.
The Planning Commission also has suggested studying the issue of allowing vacation rentals in single-family zones, which are typically filled with houses rather than apartments and other buildings commonly found in multi-family zones.
Ashland resident Abby Hogge is among the people who have been notified by city officials that they are operating vacation rentals illegally in single-family zones.
Hogge said she and her husband are both Southern Oregon University alumni and they wanted to move back to Ashland after having their baby girl.
With young families unable to afford most houses in Ashland, the couple bought a severely neglected home that had been foreclosed upon, Hogge said.
It has a "mother-in-law" unit that they have been renting out to tourists.
"We rely on the income to help pay for our mortgage as well as to finance upgrades and improvements on our property," Hogge said. "I work only part-time so I can care for our infant. This has allowed us as a young family to move into Ashland. We want to be a part of this community."
She said they can earn twice as much renting out the unit to tourists compared to renting it out long-term, and they can enter it frequently to clean.
Hogge said her neighbors appreciate the work she and her husband have put into the property. Meanwhile, a home that is used as a long-term rental in the neighborhood has created headaches because it's not maintained well and has five constantly barking dogs, she said.
Hogge said people who rent their property to tourists have more control over who stays there and can quickly get troublemakers to leave. She said if short-term stays were allowed in single-family zones, she would happily pay the city's 9 percent lodging tax.
The Ashland Lodging Association is adamantly opposed to allowing vacation rentals in single-family zones, said Abigail's Bed & Breakfast innkeeper Abi Maghamfar, president of the association.
The association includes hotels, motels, bed and breakfast inns and legal vacation home rentals.
Maghamfar said that people who buy homes in single-family zones want to live in stable neighborhoods without business activities going on.
"People want to know who their neighbors are. With a vacation home rental, the people next door change on a weekly basis," he said. "People don't get to know their neighbors. If you allow everyone to rent their homes out to tourists, you have a town that acts like a motel everywhere."
Allowing too many vacation rentals would cut into the supply of housing available to long-term renters, Maghamfar said.
"People who work in Ashland want to live here. If they can't afford to buy a home, they look for a rental. When rentals are taken out of the supply, people are forced to live in other towns," he said.
The city has collected information on about 70 properties where there is suspected illegal vacation rental activity, according to a city staff memo to councilors.
Of those, about 45 are in single-family zones, the memo said.
The city was able to collect background information on 40 illegal vacation rental homes and found that 16 previously had been used for long-term rental housing, the memo said.
Also Tuesday night, the council will consider whether to clarify that city laws require legal operators of vacation rentals to pay the city's 9 percent lodging tax and have business licenses.
Earlier this year, the council authorized the hiring of a code compliance officer whose duties will include cracking down on illegal vacation home operators.
For a complete list of agenda items for Tuesday's meeting and for details on each item, visit www.ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=15677.
Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.