Astoria will require hosts of Airbnb-type vacation rentals to pay for a new city license if they want to stay in business.
The City Council adopted the new licensing process Monday night amid outcry from several hosts who said the fees the city plans to impose are too steep.
Some said the income they earn by offering homestay lodging helps them stay in their homes. They feel they provide a valuable service by giving visitors a variety of lodging options and promoting local businesses.
But Astoria, like other cities across Oregon and the United States, has struggled with how to manage short-term rentals.
Not all of the rentals available in Astoria pay the required lodging tax or operate under the city’s guidelines, which allow hosts to only rent out one to two bedrooms in homes they own and occupy.
City Councilors Zetty Nemlowill and Cindy Price believe homestay lodging takes away long-term housing from residents, impacts the market rate of long-term rentals and changes the character of neighborhoods.
But Mayor Arline LaMear has long maintained that homestay lodging is an important option for seniors, who might otherwise struggle to afford to maintain the large older homes common in Astoria.
Under the new permit, a homestay lodging license will cost $500. Licenses will be good for two years and renewals will cost $150. The city will also require a fire, life and safety inspection with any initial license application and renewal. The inspection will cost $300 if the property owner decides to get the inspection through the city rather than hire an independent inspector.
After hearing from concerned hosts who say they have been following all the city’s homestay lodging rules, the City Council agreed to a suggestion by Councilor Tom Brownson to grandfather in existing, compliant homestay lodging businesses and only charge them the renewal fee instead of the full license fee.
“I’m a single person living in a house,” said Richard Bracke, who, like several other homestay lodging hosts who spoke Monday, brought a guest book filled with testimonials praising the room he offers. “If I have to continue to pay more and more taxes, more and more inspection fees, I am barely making it as it is.”
Outside the meeting, Bracke said he is not making a huge profit off of his Airbnb. Changes to his living situation mean he now has to shoulder costs he had not anticipated. He increasingly relies on the money he earns from his rental.
“It all goes to my mortgage,” he said.
Money also must go to extra gas for heating the room where guests stay, as well as coffee and some food for guests.
Bracke says he often lives month to month. Other hosts estimated that their profits are small, but they offer rooms because the money helps and they simply enjoy the experience of hosting. They are not interested in offering a room or sharing their home with long-term renters — a point LaMear has made multiple times.
“I don’t think we should pursue this with the purpose of increasing permanent housing,” agreed City Councilor Bruce Jones, who will take over as mayor in January. “I think it has very little, or marginal at best, effect on this.”
Dwight Caswell, another homestay lodging host, argued that the city has not be able to enforce the existing ordinance.
“You have actually so noted that it’s impossible, financially, for you to do it,” he said. “So all you’re doing with these regulations is penalizing the people who are abiding by your law right now. The people who are going under the radar are going to stay that way if you don’t enforce it.”
At a presentation in May, City Planner Nancy Ferber noted that, like much in the city code, issues with legal and illegal homestay lodgings are complaint-driven.
While the Community Development Department is doing more enforcement now than it did a decade ago, there is no capacity to take on more of that work, City Manager Brett Estes added. Ferber dealt with an illegal rental last month.
However, city staff say the new license provides a straightforward process for people who want to operate a legal homestay and the license will help the city better monitor for illegal operations.
Under the new rules, homestay lodging hosts will be required to post their city license number on advertising platforms like Airbnb or VRBO where they market their rooms. Hosts will also be required to give the city their advertising platform number. Hosts advertising without a valid license could face city enforcement.