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Bend Grapples With Short-Term Rentals

Amanda Peacher/OPB

Vacation rentals in many Northwest communities are on the rise, thanks in part to websites like Airbnb. The sites make it easy to rent your house, apartment or even just a spare room to vacationers to make some quick cash.

Cities with popular attractions are among the most hard-pressed by the growth of these new informal lodgings for tourists.

For instance, in Bend, the number of short-term rental permits has increased from around 50 to more than 500 in the last five years. Now, the city is struggling to balance the economic interests of tourism with neighborhood livability.

Stan Roach punches a code into an electronic lock and steps into a small apartment in Old Bend.

“So this is the studio, so it’s the smallest of the three that we have on the short-term rental program,” says Roach

Roach bought and renovated this 1930s four-plex in the popular neighborhood in 2013.

“We’ve done all new kitchen and cabinets and countertops and appliances,” says Roach. He’s proud of the little touches in each unit, like framed posters featuring drawings of Mt. Bachelor and favorite mountain bike trails nearby.

Roach now rents his three units on Airbnb for between $65 and $150 a night. He’s not the only Bend resident who has figured out that short-term rentals are lucrative.

Vacation rentals in many Northwest communities are on the rise, thanks in part to websites like Airbnb. The number of short-term rental permits in Bend has increased from around 50 to more than 500 in the last five years.  City-issued permits nearly doubled from 2013 to 2014.

Now, the city is struggling to balance the economic interests of tourism with neighborhood livability and to manage the challenges that come with vacation rentals that are smack dab in the middle of residential areas.

“It really came to a head this summer,” says Sally Russell, Bend’s mayor pro tem. She says in 2014 the city heard more and more complaints about the side effects of vacation rentals — things like noise, limited parking, parties and the loss of neighborhood livability.

“By the time we hit September it became really clear that something had to shift really quickly,” says Russell.

Most of Bend’s short-term rentals are clustered in two neighborhoods near downtown and the Deschutes River.

From her front porch in the River West neighborhood, Terry Reynolds points to nearby homes and ticks off which ones are vacation rentals. Eight of about sixteen houses are short-term rentals.

“This is a ridiculous amount of vacation rentals,” says Reynolds. “That changes the tenor of the neighborhood.”

Reynolds has lived here for seven years. In that period, she’s seen several neighboring owner-occupied homes sold, and then converted to vacation rentals.

“I bought my home in a single-family residential neighborhood thinking that I had neighbors, not transients,” says Reynolds. “And by transients I’m talking about the people who come and go quickly in these rentals.”

According to the Central Oregon Association of Rental Owner’s Association2014 survey, there are a total of 2,576 rental units in Bend, including short-term vacation rentals and long-term rentals like apartments, homes, triplexes and others. On Airbnb alone, there are 314 vacation residences currently listed in Bend. That’s 12.23 percent of the total units in the city.

Meanwhile, long-term renters in Central Oregon have an increasingly difficult time finding places to live. Bend has one of the lowest rental vacancy rates in the state.

Roach, the apartment owner, says that investors have a right to earn as much income as they can from a rental property, whether as a long-term or short-term rental. And he points out that not all long-term renters are ideal neighbors.

“What happens if you get stuck with a terrible neighbor?” asks Roach. “You got your neighbor, are you happy? You don’t have all these people coming and going, but you got these jerks who won’t take care of their lawn, or who party all the time, or whatever the case is.”

Roach is part of a citizen task force the city created to shape new rules for short-term rentals. The task force has crafted recommendations for how many new permits can be concentrated in a given neighborhood, and rules for how far apart they need to be.

Next, they’re looking at things like noise and parking through the city-licensing process.

“I’m really impressed at the level and the quality of the work that has come from this task force,” says Mayor Russell. She says the group has come a long way. She describes the first meeting as “caustic;” there was shouting and booing. But now, the group reaches consensus on some issues.

Still, there are strong opinions on all sides.

Stan Roach says his vacation rentals are his business. “This is my living. This is my livelihood. This is what I do.”

For some residents like Terry Reynolds, that’s just the problem.

“We moved here to live in a single-family residential neighborhood, not in a business district,” says Reynolds.

The city will consider regulations recommended by the task force this spring. The hope is to establish new rules on short-term rentals before summer.

The short-term rental debate is raging in Ashland, as well. The Ashland Planning Commission is working up a proposal for how to deal with the rising popularity of Air BnB and other short term rental websites. The plan is expected to be presented for the City Council’s consideration later this month.

Copyright 2015 Oregon Public Broadcasting