Voters in Gearhart, Oregon, sent a decisive message this week about limiting vacation rentals in neighborhoods. The Oregon beach town is the first Northwest place to hold a vote of the people on an issue that's cropping up in city councils across the region.
Owners of vacation rental properties—the kind you might find listings for on Airbnb and VRBO—placed a referendum on Tuesday's ballot to repeal and replace restrictive rules approved last fall by the Gearhart City Council.
But voters in the northern Oregon Coast town overwhelmingly said keep the limits in place. The tally on ballot measure 4-188 had 23 percent for repeal versus 77 percent against.
That outcome means the year-old rules for vacation rentals in Gearhart will remain in place. The regulations created a one-time window to apply for a short-term rental permit as well as set occupancy caps, requirements for off street parking, inspections and having someone available to respond to problems 24 hours per day.
Opponents of the regulations argued during this fall's campaign that the rules were extreme, infringed on private property rights and took away a means for middle-class people to earn a supplemental income.
Resident Jeanne Mark managed the campaign of the winning side, which sought to preserve Gearhart's small-town residential character.
"There was quite a bit of indignation when I was out canvassing or talking to people about the community becoming just really a motel zone,” Mark said. “That was really remarkable.”
Just days before the Gearhart vote, a divided city council in Walla Walla, Washington, approved similarly strict rules. Both communities effectively cap the number of short term vacation rentals.
The Walla Walla council specifically wanted to stop a proliferation of vacation rentals of entire homes and apartments—technically termed "non-owner occupied short term rentals". It voted to issue no new permits for that activity after this week.