The city of Ashland has investigated nearly 90 people as part of an effort to crack down on property owners who illegally rent out their homes to tourists for short stays.
Almost 70 more are still under investigation as the summer tourist season approaches, according to a staff memo to the City Council.
Resident Ruth Codier Resch, a senior citizen who was investigated for letting tourists stay in an extra bedroom in her house, has stopped accepting guests and now wonders whether she will be able to keep her home.
What: Ashland City Council meeting to hear a briefing on the vacation rental enforcement efforts, among other topics
When: 7 tonight
Where: Ashland Civic Center Council Chambers, 1175 E. Main St.
"I don't know what's going to happen to me if the City Council doesn't figure out a way for me to maintain my business," she said. "I'm hanging by a thread when it comes to keeping my home."
In Ashland, renting out homes for less than 30 days is illegal in single-family zones, but allowed under certain conditions in business and multifamily zones.
In November 2013, the City Council asked the Planning Commission to review whether to loosen the ban on short-term rentals in single-family zones.
In the meantime, enforcement of the existing rules continues.
Codier Resch has switched to advertising her bedroom for stays of 30 days or longer, but so far hasn't been able to find a compatible guest.
She has a service dog and can't accept a guest with a dog.
As for finding a roommate to share expenses, Codier Resch said she is handicapped and needs ample quiet time. Renting her bedroom to tourists for short stays was ideal because they would be out for most of the day, she said.
Codier Resch said Kevin Flynn, the city's new code compliance specialist, was gracious and helped explain the law to her.
Flynn was hired in October 2013 after extensive lobbying by the Ashland Lodging Association. He investigates a wide variety of code enforcement complaints, including those about vacation rentals.
Flynn said he tries to be compassionate and a good listener.
"It can be hard sometimes when someone's trying to pay the bills or make money to buy some groceries," he said.
Flynn said he tries to help homeowners understand and navigate the process to begin offering their properties legally for short-term stays. That often involves registering to pay the city's 9 percent lodging tax, getting a business license and going through any planning processes.
However, some short-term stay operations cannot become legal because of existing laws, he said.
A homeowner who wished to remain anonymous was recently investigated and stopped offering the downstairs of her home to tourists for short stays. Her home is in a single-family residential zone.
She often took bookings for 30 days or longer, but would sometimes fill in vacancies by accepting shorter bookings — a violation of city law for her zone.
The homeowner said members of the Ashland Lodging Association have been contacting vacation rental owners through vacation rental websites, posing as tourists, then reporting them to the city.
Someone called her and asked for a rental of less than 30 days. She said she would consider it, and soon after got an investigative call from the city of Ashland.
"A lot of us are trying to do our best to have rental income in our retirement and the city's blocking it," said the homeowner, who is approaching retirement age along with her husband. "The Ashland Lodging Association is trolling the Internet and posing as renters. It's a pretty ugly situation."
The homeowner said she will lose income from not being able to fill in the gaps between bookings that are 30 days and longer.
The homeowner said travelers' tastes have changed, with more wanting the option to stay in private homes. Giving tourists more variety would benefit Ashland's economy, she said.
"It's time for the Ashland Lodging Association to back down. Things have changed and this is the way the world is now," she said. "It's like they're trying to hang onto their territory."
Ashland Lodging Association Vice President Lois Van Aken said the association's membership includes legal short-term vacation rental owners. Members do offer tourists a variety of options regarding price and style of accommodation, she said.
"We have met the changing need and we are not full," she said, noting there is still unused capacity among legal operations.
Van Aken said association members want everyone to compete on a level playing field.
Compared to illegal operations, legal lodging operators are at a disadvantage because they pay lodging tax, planning fees and higher business rates for insurance and utilities, she said.
Van Aken said short-term rentals proliferated when the city lacked adequate staffing to investigate illegal operators.
That helped contribute to a shortage of long-term rentals for people who live and work in Ashland. Enforcing the rules will help ensure a balance in the supply of lodging for tourists and housing for residents, she said.
"It leads landlords away from the temptation of going after the almighty dollar and turning long-term rentals into short-term rentals," Van Aken said. "There needs to be a place for people to live who work here."