Now that the Lincoln City Vacation Rental Dwelling (VRD) task force has forwarded their findings to the city council, it’s up to the council and the city planning commission to come to grips with it. In a sweeping set of recommendations, the task force said VRD’s are an important ingredient in Lincoln City’s local economy and shows signs of becoming even more valuable, based on recent market trends. But the task force added that owners and mangers of VRD’s must operate them in ways that don’t antagonize the neighbors with noise, loud music, trash strewn about and clogged streets with inappropriate parking.
City Councilors Monday night learned that they must figure out how to deal with pre-existing VRD’s that are, in essence, commercial operations located within regular residential zones. There are also state laws that keep some VRD’s capped at 16 occupants at one time. However, some Lincoln City VRD’s regularly advertise that they can accommodate many more than 16 and have for years. Would that mean that some VRD’s would have to lower their occupancies or would they be allowed to retro-fit their facilities to more suitably accommodate a greater number of guests?
There is also the issue of yes vs. no zones – where pre-existing VRD’s may find themselves grandfathered-in in a neighborhood where such facilities would not be otherwise allowed. How should they be treated until they are eventually phased out? – due to the death of the owner or a sale to another person or company?
There is also the issue of liability insurance. Homeowner’s insurance, they were told, doesn’t cover renters liability, since, in essence, a rental is a business. That needs to be worked out – that is if the city wants to take it on, along with a number of other issues which could be addressed by expanding the reach of VRD licenses.
City Manager David Hawker said all this comes before the Lincoln City Planning Commission May 21st as commissioners try to make sense of what is called by many a hodge-podge of VRD rules and regulations up and down the Oregon Coast while trying to figure out what parts might work for Lincoln City along with some added touches unique to the town. Hawker said there will be plenty of opportunity for Lincoln City residents to voice their opinions in front of the planning commission and the city council. Written comments are also sincerely welcomed as if you attended the meetings. Hawker said it could all be wrapped up by mid-to-late summer.
Despite being told that they’d be sorry if they did it, the Newport City Council Monday moved ahead with allowing Vacation Rental Dwellings (VRDs) in all residential zones in the city. But councilors said VRDs will be monitored very closely for compliance with strict rules on noise, trash, having enough parking, occupancy limits and getting along with their neighbors.
VRDs are, as City Councilor Jeff Bertuleit opined, “mini-hotels” in the middle of otherwise upscale neighborhoods. And when they are run irresponsibly, Bertuleit said, “it’s a big deal.” He said “when a property owner, especially one who doesn’t live in Newport, is less than strict about the rules, it can drive the whole neighborhood crazy. All you have to do is look up the highway to Lincoln City to see what can happen when VRDs get out of control.”
But Community Development Director Derrick Tokos tells the city council that Newport’s proposed VRD regulations are very strict, with something bordering on “three strikes and your out” for VRDs that don’t comply with the rules. In order to get a permit, a property owner must promise to abide by the rules and pay a fee and be inspected along with establishing limits on the number of occupants in any given VRD. VRD owners must provide trash pick-up beyond normal schedules (if needed) and ensure guests don’t park on the street or on neighbors’ properties. Their guests cannot be rowdy, noisy or otherwise be obnoxious to the neighbors. The rules also require that there be a LOCAL manager for the VRD who is reachable and responsive 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
VRDs offer a “home away from home” experience for visitors to the coast who might prefer it to a standard hotel or motel experience. They also provide additional room tax revenues for the city that can be used for tourism promotion and to provide funds for street maintenance and other services used by tourists. Mayor Mark McConnell predicted there might be a slight increase in VRDs in Newport, but that they’ll mostly be within eye-shot of the beach.
Since the new VRD rules allow them in single family, duplex and apartment zones, city councilors said they will be monitoring compliance with the new rules very closely. They said they will take note of any problem trends and make adjustments to the VRD rules as needed. Tokos said the rules are clear that if a VRD owner doesn’t comply with his/her VRD permit, the permit will be revoked.
In what could be interpreted as a “get tough” approach to Vacation Rental Dwelling (VRD) rule violators, the Lincoln City City Council this week, acting as a VRD Appeals Board, tentatively revoked the VRD business license of a Lake Oswego couple who own a VRD in the Nelscott area on SW Beach Street. Neighbors have filed complaints over the past two years of excessive noise and smoke as renters gathered in the back yard of the unit, a 1929 home that has been converted into a vacation rental.
Scott and Kathleen Kiever said they have done their best to make amends to the neighbors by posting “No Noise” notices around and inside the home, and have gotten rid of the open fire pit apparatus used to build small bon fires. However, city staff said that the family only recently completely did away with the fire pit and that the noise problem persists. Staff also indicated that the home’s garage, which is required to provide guest parking, was too frequently filled with odds and ends that made it impossible to be used as a parking spot. The Kievers told the council that the extra “stuff” has been removed from the garage and that it is now available for parking a vehicle.
The city’s code Enforcement officer told the appeals board that the Kievers have been cited into municipal court and were found guilty twice of violations, paying $1,600 in fines. The officer also noted that the home is in a very densely packed area so parking is at a premium and that the home is situated in such a way that noise has been a constant problem for the neighbors.
The Kievers acknowledged the problems but pointed out that four formal complaints over the past two years still gives them a 98% compliance rate with city codes pertaining to VRD’s. However, a neighbor testified that the Kiever rental has been a nuisance to the neighbors far more often than they were officially cited. He said, “I don’t mean to be a whiner or complainer, or a cop for the city, but there are nights I can’t get to sleep I from all the noise coming from the Kiever property.”
The Kievers said if they lost their VRD license they’d be losing $100,000 in improvements they’ve made to the property. However, city councilor Alex Ward reminded the Kievers that they could always rent their home out on a month to month basis.
In the end the council, acting as an appeals board, voted unanimously to revoke the Kiever’s VRD business license. Mayor Dick Anderson said their ruling is likely to be finalized when the city council convenes again on March 12th.
The city council this week hired a community facilitator to help Lincoln City residents and VRD owners find common ground on the issues of noise, parking, trash/garbage, etc., and developing regulations and criteria for current and future VRD owners to qualify for a VRD business license. Over the years, Lincoln City has become home to hundreds of VRD’s, creating a density of vacation rentals unparalleled in any city on the Oregon Coast. There have been years upon years of local neighbor complaints about VRD’s that they contend are frequently owned by wealthy Portland area real estate investors who care only about the money they make rather than being good neighbors. Neighbors also complain that the city ordinance governing VRD’s is violated with impunity as many owners treat their units like mini-hotels rather than their main residence described in city law as “Owners shall have the right to rent their homes out on occasions when they themselves are not using it.” But VRD property manager Carolyn Plummer told the council that her understanding of that sentence is that homes are available quite often throughout the year, not just “occasionally.”
The city’s VRD consultant is expected to mediate and negotiate a city position relative to VRD’s when he schedules a number of community-wide meetings and consultations with stakeholders. But it appears that whatever the outcome, the council’s decision this week sends a clear signal to city residents that if a VRD in their neighborhood is causing a verifiable and repetitive nuisance, and they promptly complain to the city, the owner runs a substantial risk of losing their VRD business license.