County adopts vacation rental regulations

Clatsop County has moved to regulate vacation rentals.

Clatsop County commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday night to impose new regulations on vacation rentals, the latest check on the North Coast’s burgeoning tourism industry.

The county ordinance includes a lodging tax, quiet hours between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., rules for owners’ transparency with neighbors, requirements for safety such as fire extinguishers, smoke detectors and adequate septic systems, and occupancy limits of three people per sleeping area plus two more guests.

The regulations take effect in July, and vacation rental owners will have 90 days after to apply for a permit. Owners could lose their permit permanently if three violations are found or temporarily if a serious safety risk is discovered.

The state does not regulate vacation rentals to ensure health and safety as it does with hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfasts. The county ordinance passed despite concerns from commissioners about specific features and the impact it will have on the North Coast housing discussion.

“This is, I think, a good first step. I don’t think it’s perfect,” Commissioner Lianne Thompson said. “I think it’s a great idea to bring it up, take a look at it. Let’s see what happens. Let’s gather data.”

Concerns persist about the requirement that owners provide one parking space per sleeping area plus one more. Commissioner Sarah Nebeker, who has been the most vocal about parking, suggested that allowing one of the two cars to be parked on the street could be a compromise.

Questions about whether mandatory safety inspections every five years — with renewable permits annually — are adequate will also continue among commissioners.

“There’s going to be a wide range of short-term rentals. There’s going to be people that are renting out their house for once a year. There’s going to be people that are renting it out every weekend and, during the summer, during the week,” said Commissioner Kathleen Sullivan, who had proposed a three-year window for inspections. “When you are dealing with that number of people coming and going from a structure, there’s going to be things that go wrong.”

To address those specifics, Nebeker and others want to revisit the issues at some point after the ordinance goes into effect.

“This is the first time we’ll have a short-term rental ordinance. I think the first time you put anything into place, you know, we should take a review of this, you know, within six months, maybe a year,” County Manager Cameron Moore said. “Let’s find out how it’s working and whether it’s causing unintended consequences or whether it’s working as we intended.”

County staff estimates the number of vacation rentals has nearly doubled since 2010, when 93 existed. This type of ordinance is unusual for unincorporated areas, said Scott Lee, the board’s chairman.

Staff began discussing a potential ordinance more than 1 1/2 years ago after a fire destroyed a cabin near Cullaby Lake. The cabin was unoccupied at the time, and inadequate safety precautions were the suspected cause.

Commissioners received the first draft of an ordinance in June and have held three separate work sessions on the topic. They tabled the ordinance at a public hearing in September before considering it again this month.

In the midst of that process was a ballot measure in Gearhart where some residents, including Nebeker, tried to repeal the city’s new vacation rental regulations. The measure was rejected 77 percent to 23 percent.

Over the past few months, each commissioner — at various levels — has shared an appetite to address safety issues through an ordinance.

Lee made the first motion Wednesday to adopt the new regulations. The second motion came from Nebeker.

“This was a good conversation,” Lee said moments after the ordinance passed. “I think it was a good example of a good way of government.”

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