Jan 232013

Lincoln City City Council
Talking VRD’s

Professor Richard Birke
Willamette University – Dispute Mediator

Lincoln City City Councilors received a long awaited update on how the city’s vacation rental dwelling (VRD) dilemma might be resolved. For years many Lincoln City residents have complained long and loudly that a number of vacation rental dwellings were poorly run and were very disruptive to surrounding residents; garbage on the ground, cars parked on lawns and narrow road shoulders, landscaping not kept up and loud parties late into the night.

In frustration the council hired Professor Richard Birke, Director for Dispute Resolution at Willamette University who, along with some of his students, did a community-wide assessment of the problems with VRD’s and involved a broad spectrum of the city; permanent residents, VRD owners, VRD management services and business owners.

In a general overview of what participants and a special working group arrived at for solutions, Birke said a lot of it was based on common sense, but common sense tempered with easily understandable rules and strict enforcement of those rules. Birke said no code enforcement or police officer should go lax on enforcement. Birke claimed that it is the “slap on the wrist” instead of effective enforcement that makes complaining neighbors angry.

Birke said the VRD task force agreed that most VRD’s should be close to the beach, but not dominate the beach. He said the group wanted VRD’s to get along with their neighbors, especially senior citizens and other retired families who want to enjoy living in Lincoln City without a lot of loud parties going on. The want VRD owners to subscribe to trash pick up, have enough trash bins, take care of their landscaping and keep their buildings looking neat and tidy.

Birke added that neighbors who have problems with VRD’s need a single number to call to get either the police or a code enforcement officer to take care of a complaint. Since VRD’s are issued a permit with the name of the VRD owner or a local property management firm, their phone numbers should be available to the police department and the code enforcement officers so they can pick up the phone and get immediate corrective action. Birke said if a pattern of willful neglect builds up, a VRD’s owner should have his or her license suspended, or in the extreme, revoked. As for property management firms who act as agents for VRD owners, the group said the property management industry around town should be enlisted to “police their own.” At least it ought to be tried initially.

Birke said the group endorsed the city having what’s called a manual of Best Management Practices for VRD operations and management and that the city should encourage the use of such a manual for both veteran as well as new VRD owners and/or property management firms.

If a VRD owner is not cooperating in solving a problem with his or her property, Birke said the study group favors heavy fines for violations. First offense $5,000. Second offense $10,000, Third offense $25,000. Birke said the heavy fines must be high enough so that wealthy out-of-town VRD owners can’t just write the fine off as a cost of doing business. “It’s got to hurt, or it won’t work,” he said.

Birke said the group drew up a map of Lincoln City showing where VRD’s should be allowed and where they shouldn’t be allowed. He said the closer to the beach you get, the likely you are to see VRD’s allowed. But at the same time, it depends on what part of town you’re in and the character of a particular neighborhood. The maps clearly shows where VRD’s are welcome and where they are not welcome. Sort of like “yes” and “no” areas. He said in “no” areas where VRD’s already exist, when the owner ceases to use the house as a VRD, the VRD designation dies. Or if the owner of the VRD passes away, the VRD designation ends either immediately or is extended for one year if the property is booked that far ahead with customers. Birke said family VRD’s that are passed from parents to grown children only prolong the stress on the neighbors and others who find VRD’s troublesome in that they don’t blend in well with their surroundings.

As for VRD policies for the soon-to-be-annexed Roads End area, Birke said dealing with the situation there is a little tricky due to the controversial nature of the annexation. “But suffice it to say,” he said, “they want things left pretty much as they are when it comes to VRD’s.”

At the end of his nearly two hour report, Birke made it clear that VRD’s can be a valuable economic asset to the community. But they have to be owned and operated by those who respect their neighborhoods and run their VRD’s like good neighbors. He re-emphasized that rules should be clear, enforceable and when fines are levied they have to hurt. “Consistency is the key,” he said. “Nothing else will work in the long run.”

Mayor Dick Anderson and the council thanked Birke for the hard work he and his students performed to help develop solutions for the town’s VRD issues. Anderson said the next step will be for city staff to develop a draft city ordinance for regulating VRD’s and send it to the city planning commission for review and public hearings. When the planning commission adopts a version of the ordinance that they think is worthy of adoption, that version will be forward to the city council for their review, public hearings and final action. But all admitted that whatever is adopted, the ordinance is likely to be modified over the years as Lincoln City gets more and more proficient at regulating VRD’s.

To see the full VRD Study and all documents click here.

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