Airbnb hosts push back on Lake Oswego’s ban

Councilors leave ban in place

Airbnb's new logo named "Belo," July 16, 2014. (http://blog.airbnb.com/belong-anywhere)
Airbnb's new logo named "Belo," July 16, 2014. (http://blog.airbnb.com/belong-anywhere)

LAKE OSWEGO, Ore. (LAKE OSWEGO REVIEW) — Lake Oswego’s recent decision to maintain a ban on short-term rental units apparently hasn’t sat well with local members of the Airbnb “host” community, several of whom addressed the City Council last week to ask the group to reconsider.

“I think short-term hosts should be embraced by our city as virtual ambassadors of our great city,” said Airbnb host Ryan Kovak. “All the time I find myself recommending places to go — food, coffee, giving tours of our area.”

Lake Oswego’s code currently forbids property owners outside of the city’s commercial areas from renting lodging space unless the rental period is longer than 30 days. Month-to-month or annual home rentals are permitted, but transactional short-term rentals are not — a ban that rules out most guests on Airbnb.

The ban has existed in the City’s code since long before the arrival of Airbnb and other online platforms that allow residential hosts to connect with short-term renters, but it was never strongly enforced because STRs used to be a rare occurrence. Until this year, the City only took action against short-term rental hosts if a neighbor complained.

But the frequency of STRs in Lake Oswego has risen dramatically in the years since Airbnb debuted, creating a situation in which a large number of hosts — many of whom were unaware of the ban — were operating their units “under the table.”

In response to a rise in complaints from neighbors, the council directed staff in July to step up enforcement and begin proactively reaching out to local hosts to inform them of the ban. The council had also considered repealing the ban and creating a new legal structure to govern STR operations, but ultimately opted to leave the ban in place.

During a meeting earlier this year, most of the public testimony came from neighbors urging the City to maintain the ban, arguing that they did not want to see what amounted to a commercial business operating on their streets. But this time around, six Airbnb hosts discussed the value that they said the service brought, both to themselves and to Lake Oswego.

All of the hosts indicated that they had stopped operating when they became aware of the ban, but they said their experiences up to that point showed that the City should allow the service.

Host Mark Rockwell pointed to Lake Oswego’s high rate of “outbound” trips — residents who travel and stay in Airbnb units in other locations — as proof that the city’s residents support the concept, and he emphasized that the people visiting the city aren’t necessarily strangers.

“Most of the guests have strong ties to Lake Oswego,” he said. “Many are grandparents who have come to visit adult children and grandchildren. A large group are returning home to visit family and friends.”

Several of the speakers referenced concerns about loud or unruly guests in neighborhoods, which were frequently cited as one of the reasons to maintain the ban. Host Gretchen Amon said her own guests have been professionals on business trips or family members visiting local relatives.

“I can assure you there was no partying going on,” she said. “I don’t see a difference between hosting my family and hosting guests in my guestroom, except that my 3-year-old grandson is possibly more noisy and active (than any of my guests were).”

Several hosts also said allowing Airbnb hosting would bring financial benefits to the City, not only through increased tourism but also tax revenue. Lake Oswego currently collects a transient lodging tax on commercial hotels, which is used to fund tourism programs. Legalizing STRs would have allowed the City to tax them and collect additional revenue, and multiple hosts stressed that they would be willing to pay the tax.

Additionally, multiple hosts said they relied on the service to supplement their own income. At least two of the hosts said they were retired and needed the extra money to ensure that they could keep their houses.

“I have been a good neighbor and a supportive community member for 31 years,” said host Jane Hartfield, “and now I’m asking for this consideration so we can stay in the home we love.”

She also suggested that the City could address concerns about Lake Oswego’s housing supply by only allowing in-home rentals, meaning the host must live in the house and rent out individual rooms. That would solve one of the common criticisms of Airbnb, she said — the problem of some hosts buying up multiple houses to rent out, thereby removing them from available housing stock.

The council wasn’t scheduled to discuss the STR issue last week, but the hosts used the Citizen Comment period to raise their concerns. That prompted a brief discussion about the issue later in the meeting, when councilors held a scheduled discussion to decide whether to add any new topics to the list of upcoming study sessions.

Mayor Kent Studebaker asked the group for input about whether to revisit the STR ban in another study session, but the council voted 4-3 to keep the issue closed. However, the testimony from the hosts did appear to have an impact: Councilors John LaMotte, Jeff Gudman and Jackie Manz voted in favor of revisiting the issue; back in July, all six councilors (Studebaker was absent) expressed opposition to STRs and directed staff to step up enforcement.

In addition to short-term rentals, the council considered whether to hold future study sessions on a few additional topics: municipal water rates, a potential community pool and possible amendments to the Development Code to address concerns that were raised during last year’s overhaul of the Tree Code. The STR and water rates discussions were voted down, but the council voted to add the Development Code and pool topics to their agenda.

Also at last week’s meeting:

— Meeting as the Lake Oswego Redevelopment Agency board, the council reviewed preliminary designs for the North Anchor project, a planned boutique hotel and apartment complex on B Ave in the downtown core.

— The council awarded a $5.2 million contract to Murraysmith to provide management, design and construction services for the city’s 2018-2021 pavement preservation program. Engineering staff said the contract would help facilitate “more aggressive” action toward preserving and upgrading the city’s roads, in line with a council priority of improving the city’s average Pavement Condition Index score.

— The council held a lengthy study session on the issue of affordable housing, reviewing several preliminary policy ideas presented by Senior Planner Sarah Selden and Planning Director Scot Siegel. Those included options such as reducing System Development Charges on certain housing projects. Several councilors expressed a desire to develop a quantifiable target for affordable housing efforts — such as the creation of a certain number of affordable units per year — as well as ways for the City to measure outcomes and make sure the policies are working as intended.

The  Lake Oswego Review is a KOIN media partner.