‘You Don’t Kill Flies with Grenades’

Residents and short term rental advocates testified heatedly about a controversial licensing program for short term rentals at a June 15 public hearing

The Eugene City Council heard a range of testimony in favor of and against a proposed ordinance requiring short term rental (STR) operators to obtain a business license. The council will take action on the ordinance next month.

During the June 15 meeting, newly appointed City Manager Sarah Medary said the licensing program “allows us to collect data on the location of short term rentals, whether they are owner-occupied, and how many people are staying for how many nights.” She continued, “It also includes a requirement for contact information for a local host, and provides a means to revoke the license if there are three or more verified complaints.”

The City Council first discussed STRs, which are often rented out through Airbnb, on Sept. 23, 2019, where councilors directed staff to craft an ordinance with a number of regulations for a Dec. 11, 2019 meeting. 

At the Dec. 11 meeting, after hearing from STR owners and operators that there hadn’t been a public process, the Council created an ad hoc committee to provide feedback about the implementation of regulations and directed city staff to slow the regulation process.

Councilors discussed feedback gathered from the ad hoc committee and the lack of data for STRs in Eugene on May 20. The licensing program outlined in the proposed ordinance is designed to provide data otherwise unavailable. 

At the public hearing following the meeting, people heatedly expressed their various experiences and perspectives on STRs.

Mike Grudzien, who identified as a U.S. Marine Corp veteran and owner of both long-term and short-term rentals, said he was against the ordinance. “It’s really overreaching, heavy-handed, and almost a little draconian,” Grudzien said. “I don’t want to be a crusty old Marine, but you don’t kill flies with grenades.”

Patricia Moore, who is located in Washington D.C., identified as the executive director for Global Vacation Rental Association. She called into the Eugene public hearing to testify against licensing in favor of a less rigorous registration requirement for STR hosts.   

“Based on what we know from other cities, we are encouraging Eugene to just register STRs,” said Moore. She also encouraged the removal of the language enabling the license to be revoked after three verified complaints against the host.

Some residents, business advocates and STR hosts said the problems with STRs are not yet known and that the complaints of neighbors impacted by STRs fall under pre-existing laws.

Tiffany Edwards, director of business advocacy at the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce and member of the Local Government Affairs Council (LGAC) said, “We don’t yet understand the kind of problem we are trying to solve.” Edwards said LGAC was in favor of registering STRs rather than licensing.

“It also would seem that so many of the complaints generated by neighbors or others related to the short term rentals, are either already regulated by other laws — such as noise, parking, or occupancy — or shouldn’t be required at all such as being entitled to know all of your neighbors or how they conduct themselves,” Edwards said. 

Eugene resident Stephanie Mclaughlin said the mechanism for revoking licenses was a “real liability for hosts who have neighbors staunchly opposed to the STR concept.” She said she is hoping to be an STR host and that she will need the income from her rental “to keep a roof over my head.” 

Shayla Duke, a Eugene resident and member of the short-term rental ad hoc committee, said she is staunchly against the ordinance. “I think it is a violation of economic freedom and liberty to impose this ordinance,” she said.

Jojo Jensen, who sat on the ad hoc committee as a neighbor impacted by a short-term rental, said the ordinance did not go far enough.

“My hope was that council and staff would support an ordinance that has more protections for neighbors and neighborhoods. But instead, there is a threadbare edict that dismisses the real issues in favor of short-term rental operators to the detriment of the community,” Jensen said.  

Pamilla Miller, Eugene resident, said the affordability of neighborhoods are impacted by full house, non-owner occupied STRs. “Competition from investors who anticipate a generous return off of their STR investment will likely drive real estate prices higher in those areas, making it even more difficult for residents to buy or rent,” Meyers said.

Emily Fox, a resident, said the problem with full house, non-owner occupied STRs “is that you are depleting long-term housing rental stock.” As more potential long-term rentals are put on the market as vacation rentals, the cost of housing for locals increases, and rental space is taken up by people from out of town rather than low-income and unhoused Eugeneans. And housing space in Eugene is already low. 

Thirty-six percent of renters are severely rent-burdened in Eugene, meaning over 50 percent of their income goes to rent, according to a 2019 survey

The Point In Time homelessness count for 2019 in Eugene showed a 32 percent increase in homelessness from 2018, with 2,165 people experiencing homelessness.

After the public testimony, Councilor Betty Taylor said that regulation of STRs should be more stringent. “We are having a housing shortage, and the houses that are used for short term rentals are not available for long term rental or for purchase,” Taylor said.

Councilor Mike Clark disagreed. He said, “This is ridiculous and I absolutely am against it.”

Councilor Alan Zelenka said that the ordinance only revokes STR host licenses based on complaints that are verified. “It is not just a harassment mechanism; it’s a simple accountability mechanism,” Zelenka said.

“Many other cities have taken much stronger positions and enacted much stronger ordinances than this,” Zelenka said. “This is minimal at best.”

Eugene City Council will take action on the ordinance on July 13, according to Medary. The City Council meeting is accessible through the city website every Monday at 7:30 PM.

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