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Short-term rental advocates Sarah Vallieu, Darik Eaton, and Candi Canncel at a Seattle City Council meeting. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

New Airbnb operators in Seattle will not be able to rent out more than two units on the popular short-term rental platform under new rules passed by the Seattle City Council on Monday.

The council approved a new set of regulations designed to prevent property owners from operating Airbnbs and other short-term rentals as if they were hotels. The legislation is part of a larger effort to ensure an adequate supply of long-term rental stock for the city’s permanent residents.

The new rules limit hosts to two dwelling units each and require them to obtain special licenses to operate short-term rentals. The regulations also require short-term rental platforms — like Airbnb, HomeAway, and VRBO — to obtain a special “platform license” to facilitate bookings in Seattle.

An Airbnb billboard in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo).

In November, the Council approved a new tax on short-term rental operators. The tax costs hosts who rent out entire units $14 per night and hosts who only rent out part of their homes — such as a spare bedroom — $8 per night. It is estimated to bring in approximately $7 million annually. The tax was initially part of the regulatory package that passed today, but the Council decided to vote on the two issues separately.

The amended legislation approved Monday exempts some Airbnb hosts from the two-unit maximum. Hosts already operating a short-term rental in the “Downtown Urban Center” (south of Olive Way and north of Cherry St.) will not be subject to any limits on the number of units they can rent. Outside of the downtown core, hosts who were already operating a short-term rental by Sept. 30, 2017 will be permitted to rent out their primary residence and an additional two units. New Airbnb hosts are limited to just two units total.

The regulations that passed today have gone through multiple iterations as the Council worked with Airbnb to come up with legislation that let homeowners earn extra cash by renting out their properties on a short-term basis, while keeping as much long-term rental stock on the housing market as possible. The city is mired in a housing affordability crisis, driven by an influx of newcomers, many of whom have been drawn to Seattle by the promise of high-paying tech jobs.

“This has literally been a two-year process,” said Councilmember Rob Johnson during the meeting. He later added, “We have ended in a very different place from where we started.”

Johnson inherited the regulations from former City Councilmember Tim Burgess. For the past two years, the city has been negotiating with short-term rental platforms, hosts, and community leaders.

“We met a very diverse set of objectives with a very diverse set of stakeholders,” Johnson said Monday.

Airbnb worked with the Council to craft the legislation and the company is calling today’s news a victory.

“Today’s vote is a landmark win for Airbnb hosts and guests,” Laura Spanjian, Airbnb’s Northwest public policy director said in a statement. “These rules ensure the overwhelming majority of our hosts can continue to share their homes and earn extra money. Airbnb applauds the City of Seattle for developing a model regulatory framework and we look forward to continuing to work with the city as this new law is implemented.”

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