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An Airbnb billboard in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo).

The Seattle City Council is taking a new approach to regulating short-term rentals, hoping to crack down on businesses that operate Airbnbs like hotels while still allowing residents to rent out their properties for a little extra cash.

The proposed rules allow homeowners to rent out units on the property where they live, plus one additional unit outside of their primary residence. Anyone operating short-term rentals on platforms like Airbnb and VRBO will be required to obtain a new Short Term Rental Operator’s License.

Those companies would also have to acquire a Short Term Rental Platform License. The rules would require short-term rental sites to provide some data to help the city enforce its regulations and the companies would only be allowed to offer their booking services to hosts who have an operator’s license.

“Airbnb welcomes the new proposal from the City of Seattle regarding the proposed regulation of short-term rentals,” said Laura Spanjian, Airbnb’s public policy director for the Northwest. “We continue to work closely with the City on developing regulations that will protect Seattle’s long-term housing stock while allowing thousands of responsible Airbnb hosts to share their homes to earn meaningful supplemental income to help make ends meet.”

This is the second time Seattle has attempted to regulate Airbnb. The first round of legislation got stalled in the process and ignited controversy among short-term rental operators and other Seattle residences.

The initial proposal, last discussed at a heated City Council meeting in July 2016, went through several iterations. At different points, the city considered limiting the number of days per year hosts could rent their properties and axing Airbnbs in secondary homes altogether.

Today’s draft proposal narrows the scope of the regulations, hoping to just curb commercial operators who rent units out like hotels. The City Council says those property owners are taking crucial rental inventory off the market and adding to Seattle’s housing affordability issues.

The office of Councilmember Tim Burgess, who has championed these regulations, is taking public comment on the proposal. It hasn’t been formally introduced yet so the rules may be tweaked before a final draft is introduced. The proposed legislation will go before the Council’s Affordable Housing, Neighborhoods, and Finance Committee in early June.


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