Dunes City discusses options with short-term rental issues

Dunes City Council looked at finding a balance between owner and resident concerns

July 18, 2020 — Dunes City held an online town hall Wednesday night to discuss ideas and concerns regarding short-term rental properties in the city, such as Airbnb. The discussion was the first in what could be many as the city looks to create a specific ordinance regarding regulations on short-term rentals in the city.

“I’d like to preface it by saying we’re looking for input on the subject because we’ve had a few problems over the last year,” Dunes City Mayor Robert Forsythe said as he began the meeting, pointing out that it was not the intention of the city to abolish short-term rentals all together. 

“We’re not opposed to short-term rentals, or Airbnb use on a property, but we find ourselves in a pretty intrusive, unique situation with a property that’s behind us,” one speaker said, describing issues with trespassing on property, parking issues and trash.

“What we’re looking for is ideas,” he said. “[Dunes City Administrator Jamie Mills] has received different short term rental operating licenses and agreements from various places, so we’re trying to put together something that allows for short- term rentals to exist within Dunes City, but to do it to where we are not adversely affecting the neighborhood and the neighbors of those businesses.”

One of the largest problems that residents shared with current rentals is the inability to contact homeowners or managers if there is a problem.

“For example, last night we had a vocational rental, for the third day in a row, shooting off aerial fireworks,” one resident said. “We don’t know how to contact whoever the owner is. We have no way to interact if things go awry.”

Even when they do have a phone number, it can go to an out of town 1-800 number with unresponsive personnel.

“One of the things I’m not seeing is an owner or authorized representative within 30 minutes for an in-person response time to a problem,” another resident said. “I know one was in Seattle and unresponsive. There should be a representative within striking distance to resolve the problem.”

An initial draft ordinance prepared by the city required managers to mail notice to neighbors within 300 feet of a rental property, including contact information.

However, some residents felt that the range should be extended as multiple neighbors could be affected by noise.

“Is there a way to have some sort of directory of short-term rentals, where the direct contact would be listed?” one resident asked. “And then that number would be available to homeowners within Dunes City.”

All agreed that a centralized, public database of contact information for rental owners and management would be a major first step in enforcement. It would allow residents to take care of issues directly with managers, instead of having to call other agencies. It was agreed that the majority of managers were happy to work with neighbors, with many issues resolved in a single friendly phone call. 

“I screen my guests very carefully,” they said. “If guests don’t behave, you give them a bad recommendation. And most guests don’t want that, so they’re extremely careful.”

However, not all managers are so cautious. Others simply ignore complaints.

“We can serve fines that can act as a lien on the property,” Mills said. “That would be an incentive for the owner. The agents would be required to get a Dunes City business license, and that license would be suspended if the agents do nothing about it. So those are some of the ideas that we’re throwing around.”

Those solutions would be good for long-term issues, but it was unclear what could be done on immediate issues.

Some issues, like fireworks, can be handled by Siuslaw Valley Fire and Rescue. But for other criminal issues, enforcement is limited.

“The only thing I can do is fine and penalize,” Mills said, saying she had no power to issue criminal citations against people. “The last time I went out on a call to try and stop someone from doing something in the middle of the night, but my husband and I almost got beat up. So, we’re not doing that. I don’t get paid to do that. I am the code enforcement officer and I’ll do the best I can.”

Another resident agreed, saying, “All of that goes to the idea that we don’t really know the character of people who come here on a temporary basis. They could be violent or very nice people. We don’t want to approach them for the same reasons Jamie said. We don’t know if they are armed or violent or what. They may be very nice, but we have no idea.”

Instituting adequate law enforcement in Dunes City has been an issue for years, as Forsythe pointed out.

“We have to look at that because being on the far west side of the county and not having a police force ourselves, it’s probably going to cause us issues in many areas of enforcement,” he said. “But we’ll take a look at that as well.”

The discussion led to a request to make a distinction between owners of rental properties. Many of the problems Dunes City has been facing has been from out-of-town homeowners who use properties like hotels. 

But other rental owners are just looking to supplement income; some are just renting out a guest house in the yard or a few rooms in a large house. These residents would be able to respond to issues immediately, most likely preventing them before they happen.

There was some concern that regulations to avoid problems with the more commercial properties would hinder smaller owners. For example, Mills asked the council if a conditional use permit should be required.

“A short-term rental is a commercial operation, which means it does require a conditional use permit,” she said. “Right now, that’s what our code says. If we are going to go that route, which is what Reedsport does, then it’s more complicated for the property owner and for the city.”

The process does allow for a stringent review of a rental property, including a hearing process. While it does ensure that the rental is in accordance with ordinances and laws, it is also time consuming for the small city staff and expensive for retinal owners.

“The conditional use permit idea is a minimum of about $2,000 to start with,” Mills said, stating it could reach as high as $5,000. This would be on top of the other licensing fees that the council is thinking of requiring for rentals. 

“I want you to be aware that it’s not an inexpensive thing to do,” Mills said.

One renter replied that fees that high would put him out of business. Instead, they called for relying on ideas like a published contact list to take care of concerns for now, along with other regulations.

One possibility is limiting the amount of people on a property. The city’s sample ordinance required an occupancy limit of 10, while other examples limit the number of occupants per room. 

“I think another issue is not the actual number of overnight occupants, but the number of people on the property,” one resident suggested. “They have these big parties. With occupants, maybe you can consider a limit of a total number of people who can be on a property at any given time.”

The meeting ended with Forsythe thanking those who attended, stating there will be several drafts presented to the community as the conversation continues.

“We’ll treat this as a fluid document until we feel that we really got this down pat,” he said. “We’re going to work hard to get something out to you, and then we’ll do this again until we can get it right.”


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