The City of Bend will not restrict the use of short-term rentals in an effort to reduce potential visitors and stop the spread of COVID-19.
Councilors on Wednesday night chose not to take action on a proposed resolution that would have banned rentals within city limits for less than 30 days. The resolution also would have made it a civil penalty – with fines up to $750 per day against both rental operators and guests.
“At a time when people are being strongly encouraged to stay home to minimize contact with other people, non-essential occupancy of STR properties by visitors may introduce additional risks of disease transmission that conflicts with the reasons for which people are being advised to stay at home,” according to the resolution councilors considered.
Mayor Sally Russell laid it out as a discussion “about the risk and economic recovery and how those are interlinked.”
Councilors Bruce Abernethy, Justin Livingston, Bill Moseley and Chris Piper all voiced opinions against the resolution while Barb Campbell, Gena Goodman-Campbell and Russell were in favor of the rental ban.
In late March, City Manager Eric King issued a “strong advisory” discouraging people from visiting the area and asked hoteliers not to book new rooms for tourists during the COVID-19 crisis.
Those against the resolution argued current occupancy rates – which are at roughly 10% to 15% of normal – indicate visitors heard that advisory and many short-term rentals are already complying with social distancing measures.
Last fiscal year, the city received about $10.2 million in revenue from the transient room tax added to guest room bills.
If the current occupancy rate holds steady through the end of June, the city stands to lose about $3 million in revenue, according to Sharon Wojda, the city’s chief financial officer.
Councilors opposing the measure also said they didn’t want to penalize rental operators economically at a time of already widespread job loss.
Livingston said the proposed resolution was a “solution looking for a problem.”
“(The people) in these units right now are not tourists,” he said. “Taking on short term rentals…I don’t think it’s the right thing. It’s not the equitable thing to do.”
Moseley said he had a lot of problems with the resolution, calling it “terribly unkind and xenophobic to say we don’t want certain people in our neighborhood.”
“I don’t think we should unnecessarily take on risks, but I do think we should be compassionate toward people – that’s the way Bend is, he said. “But I don’t think this is a compassionate or logical measure.”
He also said while focusing on the health risk and listening to the voices of health care leaders, it shouldn’t completely guide the discussion.
“I’m terribly worried that as we proceed on a health-only approach on some of these things that we risk a depression entirely – like as in the Great Depression,” he said.
Russell said Bend, as a recreation town, could be at a greater risk because vacationers coming here could possibly bring the virus with them.
She said she understands the need to get the local economy back on track, but “can we do that more quickly by raising the risk of bringing COVID-19 more quickly back into our community?”
Goodman-Campbell said she’s worried about the long-term health risk to the community.
“If we delay and we’re not clear that this is not a place where you can come and enjoy beautiful Bend while you shelter in place, I worry that we will suffer the consequences,” Goodman-Campbell said.
But not everyone agreed.
“That might be the case in theory, but that hasn’t been our experience,” Abernethy said. “We haven’t had that rush here, we haven’t had minimal medical capacity. The small decrease in risk is not worth the known economic downturn.”
Deschutes County earlier this month announced a similar ban until May 15th on short term stays in rural, unincorporated parts of the county which include Sunriver Resort, Tetherow, Pronghorn, Black Butte Ranch and Eagle Crest.
County commissioners last week said violators of the ordinance could be fined up to $1,000 per day.