Astoria steps up monitoring of vacation rentals

Sep. 28—With concerns about the growing vacation rental market, city staff have created a list to monitor approved and unapproved businesses.

The city's list tracks advertisements on sites including Airbnb and Vrbo, and distinguishes whether they are permitted or in potential violation of the city's homestay lodging ordinance.

The ordinance, which was adopted in 2018, prohibits rooms from being rented as vacation rentals unless the owner lives on the property and obtains a license. Entire homes can only be rented as vacation rentals if they were being rented before the ordinance took effect. They can also be rented in some commercial zones under certain circumstances.

The ordinance grew out of a desire to protect Astoria's limited housing stock from market forces that incentivize renting to short-term visitors.

City staff presented the list to the Planning Commission on Tuesday night and said they would come back before the commission quarterly.

"We are doing our best to stay on top of it," said Tiffany Taylor, an associate city planner. "We're trying to hang on to the housing that we have."

Taylor said the number of listings fluctuates daily, but averages about 100.

Of the 119 vacation rentals listed, 16 were potentially in violation of the city's code and 25 have homestay lodging permits. About 45 applications for homestay lodging have been processed since the ordinance was adopted, according to the city.

Taylor said that when she finds a listing online that does not appear to be legal, she begins by reaching out to the owner personally. She said some people are not aware they are not in compliance, and usually engage with the city after a phone call or receiving a letter.

She said it is rare that people ignore the city or continue running the vacation rental after being warned.

Taylor said she has seen the number of listings creep up since the beginning of summer. She said the city receives inquiries daily from homeowners and interested buyers about turning homes into vacation rentals.

It is disheartening, she said, to see increased requests to convert entire homes.

Megan Leatherman, the city's community development director, said the city is exploring the possibility of hiring a company to monitor the listings and handle enforcement to alleviate the pressure on staff.