County ready to tackle vacation rentals

The county may regulate vacation rentals.

New vacation rental regulations may become law in Clatsop County by the end of the year.

The county Board of Commissioners will hold its first public hearing Wednesday on a possible ordinance. The regulations represent the county’s response to an issue that has unsettled the North Coast as the region becomes increasingly popular with tourists.

Since 2010, the county estimates the number of rentals available for up to 30 days has increased from 93 to 173. That figure is merely a guess, though, and permits would offer a more accurate glimpse.

“Over the past two decades there has been tremendous growth in the use of second homes as vacation rentals,” Clatsop County Manager Cameron Moore wrote in a meeting agenda item summary. “It is anticipated that the ‘vacation rental industry’ will continue to grow in Clatsop County for the foreseeable future.”

Moore added that short-term rentals — unlike hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts — are not regulated by the state to ensure renters’ health and safety. County staff has held internal discussions about the issue since the summer of 2016. Since then, staff documented complaints that included inadequate septic systems, balconies without railings and electrical wirings near hot tubs.

Permits could, among other things, require owners to comply with quiet hours, provide covered garbage containers and possess at least one fire extinguisher. The regulations could also set maximum occupancy at three people per sleeping area plus two more at a rental.

What the regulations would not require is a limit on the number of days a particular unit can be rented out, which is a major difference from ordinances in some cities, Community Development Director Heather Hansen said.

At a meeting in January, Hansen provided an example of a large home near Cullaby Lake that had caught fire and became completely engulfed in flames. Advertised as a short-term rental, it did not seek permits from the county. No cause had been determined for the fire, but staff suspected it was an electrical issue.

“This is really just about health and safety and to ensure that someone who comes here on vacation has some reasonable assurance that whatever it is they rented is not going to cause harm to them or their family,” Moore said during a January work session. “It’s really not uncommon for people to not get permits, not follow code. Frankly, people play games.”

The ordinance would require owners to obtain five-year, renewable permits for an unlimited number of properties. The permits would be transferable upon sale to a new owner.

The permit process would involve an inspection of the property and payment of a fee. That fee would be adopted by commissioners based on the money needed to offset the cost to the county for conducting inspections and processing permits. It would apply to all properties in unincorporated areas with the exception of Arch Cape, which already has short-term rental regulations.

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