© 2022 Tootie Smith for Oregon. All Rights Reserved.

Fighting for Your Vacation Rental Rights

Thanks to modern technology, property owners are able to connect to would-be visitors to rent out unused rooms in their houses. It’s proving to be a win-win for those property owners and their guests alike. However, these kinds of voluntary, mutually beneficial arrangements are being threatened by the heavy hands of government overreach and overregulation.

Many Clackamas County residents stand to benefit from the use of apps like Air BnB, and no doubt some already are. With the click of a few buttons, someone can rent out a room or two to a family on vacation, an individual on a business trip or tourists of all kinds.

But some are asking the county to adopt harsh restrictions on these kinds of transactions. They’ve even gone so far as to ask that the sheriff’s office be used to enforce those regulations.

As the chair of the county board of commissioners, I’m pushing back against this approach. For one, it’s a poor use of our limited law enforcement resources. For another, it runs the risk of violating the property rights of our residents. And that is something I will never support.

One benefit of these accessory short-term rental arrangements is that they could very well be helping people stay in their homes. The COVID outbreak and resulting government shutdowns have devastated businesses, industries, families and individuals throughout the nation and the entire world. Peoples’ pocketbooks have been battered for nearly a year now.

Renting out spare bedrooms has enabled a lot of otherwise vulnerable families to avoid foreclosure. The extra income they earn from serving as hosts has made a huge, positive difference in their lives. This is something I would be extremely reluctant to take away from them.

These kinds of rentals are an efficient use of residential structures. They ensure that a home’s primary use remains residential without taking away from the character of the neighborhood. For visitors, it enables them to stay in a more residential setting. It feels more like home because it is a home. Those who prefer hotel rooms always have that option available to them as well.

Even the City of Portland, not exactly known for defending property rights or being business friendly, has an ordinance in place enabling accessory short-term rentals. The number of bedrooms available for rental to overnight guests can be limited. Detached structure bedrooms can also be rented out.

Any concerns surrounding fire, life and safety can also be met by ensuring that each room available for rental meets building code requirements. The concerns of neighbors are met by ensuring that the property owner provide them a letter of notification and including that documentation in their licensing application. Property owners can also be required to keep a guest log book with relevant information that can be inspected by staff.

Companies like Air BnB work with their customers, hosts and municipalities. They’re proactive about informing would-be hosts about the regulatory requirements, such as licensing and registration. Links to applicable building codes are given to hosts and customers and the information about hosts is passed on to the governing body.

In other words, everyone wins. This is an ideal arrangement for everyone involved and should be free from excessive government involvement. I will continue working to preserve the property rights of Clackamas County residents, when it comes to this and all other matters.

Tipping Fee Tipping Point.

Metro is up to its same old tricks. And we need to tell them to stop it.

Metro is overcharging for residential garbage and the Clackamas County Commission can put an end to this by simply amending the county code to pass on reduced Metro fees to the residential customers that are being overcharged.

We need your voice of support to help correct this violation. 

This time last year, I was campaigning for chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners on a platform of fiscal responsibility. That included a pledge to county residents to ensure they get what their tax dollars are paying for.

I also ran on the need for the board of commissioners to put the county and its residents before those of outside entities like Metro.

Voters agreed with my stances, and I won the chair position outright in the May 2020 primary election. But even though county residents had expressed their desire for more responsible handling of their hard-earned money, I’m still faced with resistance from agencies, public employees with agendas and some of my fellow commissioners.

First, I fought to repeal the vehicle registration fee that the previous board of commissioners imposed without adequate public process. Now, I’m taking on Metro, as all indications are that it’s up to the same old shenanigans when it comes to your money.

Metro operates a dump in Clackamas County. Whenever a hauler goes to dump garbage there, it pays a tipping fee to Metro of just under $100 per ton.

The county grants franchises for trash collection services and its board of commissioners establishes a waste management fee to set the limit on what the franchisee may charge to customers.

But it turns out that Metro is charging garbage customers in the county more than the service costs to provide. Even worse, Metro is paying the contractors who actually provide the service less than they’re supposed to. Documentation exists to prove these claims.

This is in direct violation of Metro’s charter. Section 15 of that document states that “charges for the provision of goods or services by Metro may not exceed the costs of providing the goods or services.” As such, the tip fee is illegal and must be reduced to a charge that is in a legal amount more in line with the cost of providing those services.

Metro’s dubious practice was challenged in court by a couple of county residents. In response, Metro had an attorney file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that Clackamas County residents lack standing in the matter. In other words, Metro used your tax dollars to pay an attorney to tell a judge that it’s none of your business if you don’t get the services you’re paying for.

An argument made by Metro’s taxpayer-funded attorneys states that even if the tipping fee is reduced, there is no guarantee the savings will be passed on to county residents. To me, this is nothing more than a cop-out and an attempt by Metro to avoid accountability.

In response, I’m putting an ordinance before my fellow commissioners. If passed, it will amend the county’s code to state that if Metro reduces or is required by a court to reduce its tip fee, the waste management fee shall be reduced for customers on a dollar-by-dollar basis.

The first hearing of this proposed ordinance is scheduled for Thursday, April 1 at 10 a.m. A second reading is tentatively scheduled for two weeks later, on April 15.

I’m doing everything I can to look out for the ratepayers and taxpayers in Clackamas County, but I need your help to do so. Any citizens who agree that we should be getting what we pay for out of Metro is strongly urged to participate and testify in favor of the ordinance.

Taking on Metro is no small task, but it’s one I know we can take on together. Help me hold this agency accountable to, and for, every resident of Clackamas County.