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Ashland City Council: Vacation rentals to operate under new restrictions

7:23 pm October 3rd, 2013
Websites such as vrbo.com and AirBnB are popular venues for advertising vacation rentals.

Websites such as vrbo.com and AirBnB are popular venues for advertising vacation rentals.

By Maya Moore-staff

Ashland property owners and lease holders who choose to rent out their homes to tourists will need to obtain a business license, pay a transient occupancy tax (TOT), pass a fire inspection, and secure land use approval in order to operate their business, according to the first reading of a new ordinance approved last week by the Ashland City Council.

The ordinance amends current standards of the Ashland Municipal Code, and clarifies which properties in R-2 and R-3 (multi-family zoning districts) can qualify as short term vacation rentals.

“Short-term” is defined as less than 30 days. The ordinance also clarifies that business owners must reside on the property “on which the traveler’s accommodation is sited.”

Property owners who choose to advertise their vacation rentals on Internet sites such as vrbo.com and AirBnB must note the planning action or license number in their ad.

The unlicensed short-term vacation rental business has been active in Ashland for years, attracting tourists who prefer to rent a whole residency rather than stay in a Bed and Breakfast or inn.

Until now, owners have operated largely under the radar, and haven’t been compelled to pay taxes or obtain a license, although some have said they would be willing to, if it were an option.

The situation took a turn last year when the newly formed Ashland Lodging Association began pressuring the City of Ashland to enforce restrictions on unlicensed establishments. The city acted on the complaint, mailing about 40 warning letters to owners of unlicensed vacation rentals, whom they tracked down through internet advertisements. Councilors also ordered reports from staff and the Planning Commission.

One aspect of the ordinance that generated debate during the council meeting was the “200 foot rule,” which stipulates that short-term rental properties must be “within 200 feet of a boulevard, avenue or neighborhood collector street.” This would exclude rural homes and even those homes that are more than a block from major roads from the vacation rental market.

The rule was set by the Planning Commission in a previous determination, but one vacation rental owner, whose property on Garfield Street would not qualify, cried foul play, calling the 200-foot rule “arbitrary.”

“If you live more than 200 feet from an avenue, you have to go through a very expensive variance process,” he said during the public hearing, “and there is no guarantee that you will be approved. I think it’s unfair.” Although the 200-foot rule will remain in place for now, councilors voted to request staff to do further study on the implications of lessening or even eliminating the restriction.

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