City Council revises proposal addressing short-term housing rentals

After facing backlash over restrictions on short-term rentals like Airbnb & VBRO in Seattle, the city has now revised its rules. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE - When Sandy Martin moved to Seattle from the Silicon Valley three years ago she couldn’t find work, so she turned to the online platform Airbnb to slow the rapid drain of her savings account.

Martin said she used the online short-term rental platform to rent out the two empty bedrooms in her Fremont home and found success.

“The income helps me because I’m moving towards retirement and so I want to build up my savings, my social security, so it will be easier,” Martin said.

But, when the Seattle City Council last year started talking about tightly regulating VRBO, Airbnb and other short-term rental platforms – possibly even capping the number of days an owner can rent- Martin became worried.

She showed up at Council meetings and testified.

“I think everybody was worried who is involved in this,” Martin said on Monday.

After meeting with the rental companies, as well as with community members and others, Councilmember Tim Burgess said they “refined” the proposed legislation.

Gone was the proposed yearly cap of days owners could rent – something that relieved Martin, who rents her home year-round.

“So someone will be able to rent their primary residence plus one other, so a little restriction there on how many units you can use for short-term rental,” Burgess told KOMO on Monday. “We don’t want to restrict homeowners from using their primary residence to create additional revenue and this ordinance does not restrict that.”

But, Burgess said, the proposal is, “very restrictive for someone who wants to have multiple properties."

“Basically,” he said, you can rent your primary residence or one other. "You won’t be able to, like we see now, buy whole floors of apartment buildings.”

The Council did keep some of the parts of last year’s proposal – including a requirement for an operator to have proof of liability insurance and a local contact number for guest. Operators also must have a license from the City of Seattle.

Burgess said other cities nationwide have caps on how long a home, condo or room can be rented and some cities don’t allow short-term rentals at all.

“We’re trying to protect the long-term housing stock that’s available in the city,” Burgess said.

Burgess said there is a 21-day comment period for people to reach out to the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspection to discuss the proposal.

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