Property owners are pitching luxury tents and teepees on their property and offering them to summer tourists — but officials say local ordinances don’t allow it.
BEND, Ore. — A queen-sized bed. Wi-Fi. A home-cooked breakfast.
These amenities aren’t usually found at the average campground, where campers are often responsible for bringing their own toilet paper and are lucky to access a shower.
But in the midst of peak summer tourist season, property owners are pitching luxury tents, teepees and campers on private property and offering them to Bend’s tourists. The rentals cost anywhere from $15 to well above $100, with some that boast comforts such as heated massage beds, tribal rugs and feather pillows.
In Oregon and throughout the rest of the country, glamping, or glamorous camping, is a growing trend, with luxury tent rentals and resort campgrounds popping up in several states. From a $2,476-a-night tent with an adjacent teepee in Utah’s desert to a safari-style tent for $1,155 a night on a Montana cattle ranch, people are paying hundreds of dollars to camp without the discomforts of setting up a tent or starting a fire.
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But there’s a problem — it’s not legal to live in tents, teepees, yurts or mobile homes in the city of Bend, let alone rent them out as vacation rentals, according to city planners. Surrounding Deschutes County generally doesn’t allow it either, with the exception of RV parks, permitted campgrounds and for those experiencing medical hardships.
“It just doesn’t meet our code in any way, shape or form,” said Rachel Ruppel, an associate planner in Bend’s Community Development Department.
Even if zoning laws allowed people to live in tents or trailers in Bend, property owners would still be required to get an operating license from the city to open a vacation rental, she said.
“One of the things of being in a tourism-dependent economy is that people are often trying to make ends meet,” Ruppel said. “So they’re like, ‘Oh, this could be a really low-cost way for me to get into the long-term or short-term rental market.’ ”
An Airbnb spokeswoman said the company asks all its hosts to comply with local laws when they sign up for Airbnb. Right after property owners select the location of their listing, they’re provided with links to webpages on complying with local laws and how to be a responsible host.
It’s also in HomeAway’s terms and conditions that people follow local laws when listing properties as vacation rentals, said Adam Annen, a spokesman for the company. But because HomeAway.com works like an advertising agency, it doesn’t keep track of clients’ booking records and whether each one is complying with local laws, he said.
Still, several Deschutes County property owners are offering up their land, tents and trailers for rent to visitors, with more than a dozen listings on websites such as Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO. With names like “CAMPTIQUE, boutique camping,” “Tipi to the Sun” and “The Chief Deschutes,” the listings say visitors can expect an experience more similar to staying in a hotel than roughing it in the wilderness.
About an hour drive north of Bend, visitors can pay between $450 and $750 a night at Panacea at the Canyon, a luxury tent resort in Terrebonne. The resort was opened to serve as a sanctuary for those looking to unplug from cellphones and computers and reconnect with nature, said owner Darren Kling, who started planning the resort with his wife nine years ago.
The permitting process took at least two years to complete, Kling said, adding that the resort was approved as a permitted campground, rather than short-term rentals.
Since then, “the whole luxury camping thing has caught on quite a bit,” Kling said.
But the vast majority of tent and camper rentals listed in and around Bend cost less than most hotel rooms. Meanwhile, the occupancy rate in Bend hotels and lodging rose as high as 90 percent in 2015, according to Visit Bend data. And on summer weekends, the occupancy rate is even higher.
Over the last several years, visitors to Bend are increasingly opting for vacation rentals instead of hotels, which has spurred pushback from some Bend residents who say the rentals have replaced long-term housing and are a nuisance to neighbors.
In response, a city task force established new rules last year that made it more difficult to operate a vacation rental by imposing a density limit. The rules prevent two rentals from being within 250 feet of each other if approved after April 2015. Rental owners were also required to purchase an operating license from the city, which must be annually renewed.
Since the new laws went into effect, there are few enforcement issues with illegal rentals, most of which are spurred from complaints by Bend residents, said Julie Craig, a code enforcement officer for Bend. And so far, the city hasn’t received any complaints about visitors offering tents or mobile homes as vacation rentals, Craig said.
“We are definitely complaint-based, especially in the short-term rental world at this point,” Craig said. “We are all about education and gaining compliance, so very rarely with code enforcement do we issue any citations.”