City OKs regulations for short-term rentals

Renton councilmember Randy Corman has an Airbnb in Renton. He and his wife had positive experiences as guests in other countries, and a section of the house to spare.

Corman said it’s an incredible opportunity to meet people from all over the world. He’s a proponent for short-term rentals in Renton.

But he said it’s also important to avoid the possible pitfalls of Airbnb for the city.

City council passed an ordinance Dec. 10 that regulates the short-term rental market of Renton. It requires owners to have a business license, additional parking for guests, meet fire safety and signage codes and be occupying units with multiple rentals.

The regulation applies to a property owner if they advertise through an online marketplace or any publication, hire a property manager and/or have guests over three times, annually. A short-term rental is defined as less than 30 continuous days.

This is a similar ordinance to other cities in Washington, Steve Butler said. Butler is the planning and policy manager for the Washington Municipal Research and Services Center, a nonprofit that offers policy guidance for local governments.

While this market was around for decades in vacation areas like the San Juans, the rise in online services made it more accessible for other parts of the state, Butler said. This means more need to regulate.

Owners will now need to obtain a city of Renton business license. Business licenses currently cost $125.

The license fee was recently a topic of controversy with the city’s Healthy Housing Initiative, another ordinance that would require long-term rental owners to obtain licenses.

Representatives of the Rental Housing Association for Washington state commented that initiative might increase their rent rates and was unfair to smaller rentals.

The city may alter the costs for the short-term ordinance if changes are made to the same costs for the Healthy Housing Initiative, Corman said. He said he will be asking council about this in the new year.

Some owners use the revenue of hosting renters to pay their property taxes, Corman said, given the steep costs today. A retired couple was able to keep a property they’ve owned for years, he said. It also helped another Renton host, Claire Gilleg, to stay at home with her daughter.

Gilleg has a two-person cabin on the Cedar River, and said she hadn’t heard about the ordinance. She said a lot of hosts on Airbnb have already been getting their licenses to protect them if anything unforeseen were to happen in their rental.

About half of Gilleg’s renters are locals looking for a night away from the hustle and bustle. Some guests have parties or weddings, and she said she wonders what will happen to them.

Another Renton Airbnb host, Sema Calvo, has a business license. Calvo assumed it was already required.

Business licenses are a way for the city to regulate the fees of the property. Often cities want smaller rentals to confine to business and hotel fees, Butler said.

Corman also said it’s unfair to the business owners who pay the lodging tax if small short-term rental owners don’t.

The third common priority is safety on these properties, Butler said.

Corman said he believes the most important part of the ordinance is the fire safety standards. The map and fire extinguisher are already required by some sites, including Airbnb.

Butler said a growing concern for short-term rentals is housing supply and affordability. Major cities like D.C., San Francisco, New York and Seattle have all tried to cap Airbnb owners from buying out apartments and renting them out nightly.

Housing was discussed briefly at the last council retreat in relation to Airbnbs, but Corman said empty nesters like himself that make part of their home available aren’t significantly harming the housing situation.

“In our view, we would stay in this house anyways,” he said.

He also said that most cities aren’t trying to limit hosts in his situation, but instead those who try to buy multiple units to turn them into short term rentals.

In the ordinance, if there’s more than one party renting, the dwelling must be owner-occupied. This will probably address those types of multiple-unit owners, Corman said. It also limits rentals to two people per bedroom.

Penalties for violations include a misdemeanor. This allows the city to do inspections if there’s probable cause. Corman said it’s rare they go forward with criminal action.

“I would hope our city would work hard, before assessing any criminal penalty, to inform (hosts) and give them chances to get it right,” he said.

The ordinance is available on the city’s website.

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