County looks to tighten vacation rentals

(File photo)

LINCOLN COUNTY — County officials are putting illicit or unregulated vacation rental owners on notice after discussing licensing regulations and sewer system problems in the unincorporated areas of the county.

The issues posed by vacation rentals in areas outside the city limits of Newport, Waldport, Yachats, Toledo, Depoe Bay and Lincoln City include, among other things, decaying and outdated sewer or septic systems on older properties that pre-date any vacation rental regulations. 

While no new vacation rental ordinance has been adopted by the county board of commissioners, the public hearing of the ordinance Wednesday was one of the first steps in such an ordinance coming down the pike.

“We’re proposing we come up with an occupancy calculation based on the capacity of those particular systems,” said Wayne Belmont, county counsel. “We come up with a formula, not too different from what we got existing, but it brings into the equation the existing number of bedrooms.”

Another provision Belmont advocated for is that if a vacation rental has a failing sewer system, operations at that vacation house should cease. Most reasonable property owners would actually stop renting out the house until the sewer system is repaired, Belmont added, but ceasing operations if a home’s sewer system is damaged isn’t required by law. 

“It will now be required by code,” Belmont said. “If you’re self-reporting by coming in and applying for a permit for repair or we get a complaint and we find that there’s a sewage problem, we want to immediately suspend the STR [short-term transient rental] use of that particular property.”

The ordinance, if passed, would go into effect immediately if it is passed with an emergency clause, which would make the new regulations effective right away. Any vacation rental home in the unincorporated areas of the county, under the new rules, would be required to pass certain sewage system requirements before getting a license to operate a vacation rental home. 

Any violators county officials become aware of would get a letter in the mail and 60 days to come into compliance with county rules. The county wouldn’t be alone in tracking down violating properties — there are third-party vendors in Lincoln County that could assist county officials in determining which properties are in violation of county regulations. 

While the board of commissioners debates the potential ordinance, some county regulations covering vacation rentals have been in place for the last three years, Belmont said. The issue of vacation rentals in the county has been such a focus for residents of communities across Lincoln County that, according to Belmont, there’s no excuse for not knowing vacation rentals are licensed. 

“There’s a lot of discussion and coverage of this particular issue,” Belmont said. “There should not be a single property owner out here that doesn’t understand they’re regulated and licensed in the county. If we find someone who’s not permitted, we’re not just going to say fine, let’s get your license.”

Belmont added, “We have some provisions in our current code that will provide sanctions for someone who is not licensed. There’s no excuse for anybody who’s coming into this system anymore.”

Residents of unincorporated communities are some of the most affected when unlicensed properties or homes with problematic sewer systems affect communities like Surfland or Miroco. A group of residents from the latter wrote a list of requests for the board of commissioners, asking for the board to consider short-term rental goals that would benefit those in the county’s smallest and most rural communities. 

“The Miroco Community’s goal is to preserve the quiet residential character of Miroco and quality of life for all Lincoln County residents,” the short-term transient goals sheet read. “We need the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners to require that STRs meet Oregon DEQ standards for existing onsite wastewater treatment systems (septic systems) before allowing STRs to operate.”

The sheet also said Miroco residents want the county to protect community residents from other problems posed by vacation rentals, including trespassing, spilled garbage, increased traffic, noise, and light pollution — all problems that reduce community member’s trust and well-being. 

However, the community’s stated goals went even further than addressing problems caused by vacation rental properties’ outdated sewer systems. Some called for complete elimination of vacation rentals in communities such as Miroco. 

“We believe the commissioners can pursue a long-term sustainable solution to the loss of long-term housing by phasing out existing STRs (short-term transient rentals) from residential zones,” the sheet said. “This can all be accomplished with an immediate halt to licensing new STRs on septic systems in residential areas zoned R-1 and R-1-A — such as Miroco.” 

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