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Seattle continues to add inventory to alleviate the strained rental market but lawmakers worry short-term rentals will slow progress. (Photo via Shutterstock).
Seattle continues to add inventory to alleviate the strained rental market but lawmakers worry short-term rentals will slow progress. (Photo via Shutterstock).

Airbnb and VRBO, two titans of the short-term rental lodging industry, have concerns about the regulations Seattle lawmakers proposed Wednesday.

Mayor Ed Murray and Councilmember Tim Burgess suggested new rules that they say will prevent property owners from converting long-term rentals into short-term Airbnb-type listings. If a property is not the primary residence of its owner, it cannot be rented for more than 90 days per year, under the proposed regulations.

The regulations are designed to discourage landlords from operating hotel-like businesses where they would otherwise provide long-term rentals for residents.

Tim Burgess.
Tim Burgess.

“The number of short-term rentals available through these platforms has been rapidly increasing and there are now spin-off businesses that make it easier for individuals to manage short-term rentals,” Burgess wrote in a blog post in January. “At a time when we face a shortage of affordable rental housing, this issue deserves a closer look.”

But VRBO and HomeAway, both owned by Bellevue, Wash.-based Expedia, are concerned about the 90-day maximum proposed by Burgess and Murray.

“Provisions in the current policy direction, such as the 90 cumulative annual rental limit, will onerously harm responsible homeowners and small business,” said Matt Curtis of HomeAway, in a statement from the company. “Additionally, it’s important to keep in mind that short-term rentals represent perhaps a thousand homes out of the more than 300,000 total homes, condos and apartments in Seattle — that’s less than 1 percent of Seattle’s overall housing stock.”

Burgess, however, believes short-term rentals comprise a larger percentage of Seattle homes.

“There are an estimated four to five thousand Seattle homes, whether that’s a condo or an apartment unit or a private residence, that are being offered on these rental platforms today,” he told GeekWire in an interview Wednesday. “Airbnb tells us that since 2009, their volume of users has doubled each year, so we know that this a large, growing sector and it is clearly providing economic benefits to hosts. We don’t want to interfere with that, but we do want to regulate commercial enterprises that are converting large numbers of Seattle homes to short-term rentals.”

Under the proposed rules, platforms like Airbnb and VRBO would also be required to obtain a license and provide the city with names and addresses of homeowners, as well as the number of nights each operator has rented on the platform over the previous year.

That doesn’t sit well with Airbnb.

Airbnb locations in Seattle.
Airbnb locations in Seattle. Map via Airbnb.

“The proposal takes into account the important distinctions between those who share their homes on occasion to help make ends meet and those who do so with greater frequency,” said Airbnb spokesperson Alison Schumer. “However, we have legal and privacy concerns with any requirement compelling platforms like Airbnb to turn over personal, confidential information about the people who use our service without any idea about how that information would be used. We believe there are alternative ways for the City to enforce its regulations without compromising consumer privacy, and remain hopeful we can work together to devise a balanced solution.”

Burgess agrees that working together with rental companies is key to enacting effective legislation. However, he says the privacy concerns raised by Airbnb are not germane to the issue. Burgess noted that since homeowners operating short-term rentals will need to apply for a business license, the city will already have the name and address on file.

“We’re going to listen to them about their concerns about privacy, but I haven’t really heard a good argument yet,” he said.

The proposed regulations also require hosts to provide proof that the unit is a primary residence, have liability insurance, offer a local contact number for guests, and display basic safety information posted in the unit.

The Seattle City Council will consider the proposed regulations at a meeting of the Affordable Housing, Neighborhoods and Finance Committee — of which Burgess is the chair — on June 15. Official legislation will be proposed in July.

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