Online rental firms are manipulating Ashland
As corporations such as VRBO, Homeaway, Tripadvisor and airbnb have gained popularity, cities have had to address the issues that they promote and enable unbridled growth of unlawful short-term rentals. In response to the cities' pushback, the online short-term rental corporations have started to change the way they operate.
Essentially, in order to survive and grow, these corporations have to get thousands of U.S. cities and towns to change municipal codes to favor their business model. Separately this is an impossible task; however, together these corporations can orchestrate changes across the country.
Therefore, in 2013, VRBO, Homeaway, Tripadvisor, Flipkey and airbnb (who are usually competitors in the online short-term rental marketplace) formed a coalition called Short Term Rental Advocacy Center (see www.stradvocacy.org/about-us). This is a well-funded lobbying group whose purpose is to form STRAC chapters across the country to influence local politics and change municipal codes to suit the needs of the corporations in the online short-term marketplace.
Their basic credo is inaccurate but very appealing: "owners have a right to rent their property on a short-term basis." Their arguments and proposals ring of constitutional property rights and liberties. In fact, owners may do what they will, until it runs afoul of zoning laws and the rights of their neighbors.
There are well-established legal precedents that city zoning laws do not violate individual property rights and that zoning laws are in place for the common good. Most local municipalities will not allow unlawful short-term rental businesses — and that is exactly what STRAC is trying to change.
To the unaware and casual observer, STRAC will appear to be a local grassroots advocacy group, but it is actually supported by corporations with an interest to influence the local political process. STRAC hosts a nationwide website, provides forums and news services and supplies a "playbook" by which local homeowners may launch a campaign to further the growth of short-term rentals in all city zones.
Unfortunately for the majority of Ashland citizens, big corporations that profit from unlawful short-term renting are meddling in Ashland's affairs and are exercising undue influence on our discussions about the current proposed ordinances as well as advocating for short-term rentals in R-1 zones. This has become clearly evident in the past couple of months with the creation of Ashland's own local Short Term Rental Advocacy Center chapter (www.stradvocacy.org/local_chapter/ashland-or/).
The process of creating and adopting Ashland's zoning laws should be conducted openly, and only by those people who live, work and raise families in the town. If you don't want big out-of-town corporations involved, then send a letter or an email to Ashland's City Council at www.ashland.or.us/CouncilContact.asp.
Lois Van Aken
Central Avenue Cottage