Be our guests

Jacksonville is the latest local community to grapple with the issue of homeowners renting their houses to vacationing tourists on a short-term basis. Ashland is facing this question as well.

Although the two towns' circumstances are somewhat different, the central question is the same: Can a city enforce rules that put private homeowners and commercial bed-and-breakfast operators on an equal footing? We think the answer is yes, and the benefits of doing so outweigh potential drawbacks.

Both towns are magnets for tourists, Ashland because of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Jacksonville because of the Britt Festivals and, to a lesser extent, local wineries. Ashland is a larger city with a longer tourist season and a much larger lodging industry.

In both cases, so-called vacation rentals by owner (VRBO), are already happening, in violation of existing ordinances. B&B operators see private rentals as unfair competition because private owners don't have to pay lodging taxes, carry large liability insurance policies or submit to health inspections.

Lodging operators also object to what they say is the detrimental effect of short-term visitors staying in residential neighborhoods.

A few observations:

Bed-and-breakfast inns are charming, but they are not for everyone. Visitors share meals with other guests and interact with their hosts, which appeals to some travelers more than others.

Some people prefer more privacy, which a VRBO can offer. Rates may also be lower, because no food is provided.

B&Bs must submit to health inspections because they serve food, a necessary measure to protect the traveling public. A VRBO that does not serve food should not have to pass the same health inspection. VRBOs should, however, pay local lodging taxes.

Visitors to a community consume public services to the extent that they drive on the streets, use public utilities such as water, sewer and power and enjoy police protection. It is reasonable for the local government to collect a lodging tax to recoup those costs, which are added to the cost of the lodging.

Objections to strangers staying in residential neighborhoods seem overblown. Vacation rentals are not inexpensive, and guests tend to be families or couples. Existing noise ordinances should be enough to protect the rights of neighbors.

In the case of Jacksonville, the town has only 80 approved units available for rent. Homeowners may rent rooms or auxiliary buildings, but only for at least a 30-day stay.

Allowing short-term rentals would add to the number of visitors in town, benefiting local restaurants and shops as well as homeowners.

In Ashland, it appears vacation rentals are occurring despite ordinances restricting them, but we're not aware of any outcry from residents that their neighborhoods have been degraded. The city should bring VRBOs out of the shadows, collect lodging taxes and impose any other reasonable requirements to ensure cleanliness and quiet.

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