Court of Appeals rules against short-term rentals on Clackamas County farm/forest land

By Andrew Mulkey, Rural Lands Attorney

The Oregon Court of Appeals recently ruled that short-term rentals are not allowed on farm or forest land without a permit. This is a big win for 1000 Friends and a big win for farmers. By affirming an earlier decision by the Land Use Board of Appeals, the Court upheld protections for farm and forest land already enshrined in state law. 

Currently, landowners are able to establish a short-term rental on farm or forest land by applying for a permit. The existing permit process ensures that farmers are not overrun by hotels and overnight lodging businesses managed by absentee landlords. The existing law also helps ensure that short-term rentals don’t interfere with farm and forestry operations. 

Think about it: people who live in town don’t want a rowdy party house next door, populated by a rotating cast of unfamiliar vacationers – and neither do Oregon’s farmers and rural residents. If someone proposed such a business in a residential neighborhood, nearby residents would certainly want to know about it in advance. And if you lived nearby, you would want the opportunity to comment and have your concerns addressed. Thankfully, Oregon’s land use system provides the opportunity to comment on such proposals. On farm and forest land, this process helps ensure that non-farm businesses don’t interfere with existing farm and forest operations. Clackamas County tried to do away with all that. 

Clackamas County came up with a scheme that would have allowed any dwelling to be turned into a small hotel or overnight lodging business run by an absentee landlord without any oversight. The proposal would have allowed any dwelling to operate like a hotel for up to 15 guests at a time. By eliminating the need for a permit, the county cut off any opportunity for neighbors or nearby farmers to raise concerns. Thankfully, Oregon’s protections for farm and forest land – and common sense – prevailed. 1000 Friend’s advocacy at LUBA and the Court of Appeals stopped the county in its tracks.  

The number of short-term rentals in some areas can be a real problem that fuels speculation, displaces long-term renters, drives up housing costs, and ultimately guts communities. There are areas on the coast where entire residential neighborhoods have been transformed into what is essentially a hotel. On farm and forest land, the existing permit system provides a balance that attempts to allow non-farm uses in a manner that will ensure the long term viability of Oregon’s farm and forest lands. The next time you go to a farmers market, thank Oregon’s land use laws that your farmer wasn’t pushed out to make room for a 15-room hotel.