With various amendments swirling, the City Council should uncouple the proposal to regulate online platforms such as Airbnb with budget deliberations.
As Seattle voters fixated on the outcome of an unusual election season, one that saw no fewer than two temporary mayors sworn into office, the City Council has been busily debating its budget for the coming year.
Included in those talks has been a renewed push to regulate short-term rentals, such as those offered through the popular online platforms Airbnb and VRBO.
The City Council may take a final vote Monday on enacting taxes and licensing requirements for property owners who rent out a spare bedroom or an entire home or apartment.
While the effort to regulate Airbnb and other rental platforms has been a long time in coming, the vote will happen shortly before a newly elected mayor and council member can take office.
The City Council should take a pause and allow Mayor-elect Jenny Durkan and incoming Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda to weigh in on the issue.
While outgoing Mayor Tim Burgess, a key proponent of the short-term rental rules, says the revised rental proposal has won the support of residents and business groups alike, a handful of amendments expected to be voted on Monday could drastically change the regulatory scheme and who supports it.
Burgess’ proposal that passed out of committee would allow most property owners to rent out a maximum of two units using platforms such as Airbnb and VRBO, regardless of whether the property owner lives in either unit. But one potential amendment would return to the idea of requiring one of those units to be a person’s primary residence — a significant policy shift.
Members of the council also continue to debate which property owners should be subject to some of the rules. The proposal by Burgess and Councilmember Rob Johnson would create a large carve-out for certain property owners in the South Lake Union, downtown, Uptown, Capitol Hill and First Hill neighborhoods, so that they wouldn’t be subject to the two-unit limit. Competing amendments aim to shrink or expand this exemption area.
Because the city has spotty data on the proliferation of short-term rentals throughout the city, it remains murky how many current property owners would be able to skirt the cap on the number of units rented under the current proposal — let alone if the exemption area were to be expanded. This ambiguity threatens the legislation’s stated goal of keeping more apartments on the market as long-term housing for Seattle residents, as opposed to lodging for visitors.
City officials should uncouple this proposal from the budget discussions to work out some of these key issues, and allow the public — and Seattle’s new mayor — to be heard. Seattle’s city government, which is proposing to spend $5.6 billion next year, isn’t exactly starving for the $6 million the proposal is projected to generate annually. The city’s budget has grown by about a third since 2014.
Let the new council and mayor weigh in on this once they take office, and when voters are actually paying attention.