The Seattle City Council plans to consider legislation on short-term rental services.
Editor’s note: Short-term rental companies like Airbnb and Vacation Rental by Owner (VRBO) have an estimated 3,000 units in Seattle — and the City Council will soon consider regulating them.
We asked readers to share their experiences with services like these and also offer their opinions on how the city can balance the concerns of neighbors with the rights of property owners. The following are a selection of the responses we received.
Airbnb doesn’t cut into long-term rental market
Airbnb hosts like me, who depend on short-term-rental income in a city in which housing and living costs are spiraling out of control, should get a fair, full and carefully considered hearing on this issue.
First, why regulate Airbnb rentals at all? Is it really making housing less affordable? Is it taking long-term rentals off the market? If Airbnb is banned or severely restricted, would the long-term rental market become so flooded with new units that rents would decrease? I think not.
A large number of Airbnb rentals would not be feasible long-term rentals. They are spare spaces that are “Airbnb’d” when no family or friends are using them. They are small or quirky or have no kitchen or shower — terrible spaces for long-term rentals but perfect for budget-minded visitors who can’t afford $300 per night for a hotel or who would rather have a neighborhood stay.
Are we regulating because of parking problems or disruptive guests or unsafe accommodations? Please provide at least anecdotal evidence of this. Most hosts care about the customer experience and put their hearts and souls into these family-supporting short-term rentals. Let’s adapt to and embrace home sharing. Don’t destroy it with regulation.
Kevin LeMoine, Seattle
Regular B&Bs are getting pushed out
I own and operate a traditional bed-and-breakfast and can honestly say that Airbnb is having a serious impact on my business. In my neighborhood of Capitol Hill, there are approximately 400 listings.
Airbnb has taken an entire profession (innkeeping) and turned it into its brand. Anyone, anywhere can be an “instant innkeeper” in an hour or less with zero hospitality experience. In most cases, the second “B” is not part of the deal. “Airbed.com” would be a more accurate description of what a guest is actually getting.
It is important to note that Airbnb is a multibillion dollar corporation much like Wal-Mart and other big companies that have destroyed small towns and businesses across the country. As it continues to grow, we are going to see a lot of small businesses shut down because they cannot compete.
I don’t have a problem with people renting out spare rooms in their home. I do, however, have a problem with hosts that have 40 listings of properties that they don’t occupy themselves. These are not people looking for a little extra cash. They are taking away housing and turning condominiums and apartment buildings into hotels — without all of the regulation and expense that goes along with it of course.
John Fox, Seattle
Neighbors like what they see
We have been Airbnb hosts for six years in Seattle and have stayed in VRBO and Airbnb accommodations in Mexico, the U.S. and the U.K. It’s so much better and more interesting than even the best hotels.
Our neighbors have had no issues with our Airbnb business, and some have even joined us after observing our success and how enjoyable it is to meet folks from all over the world. We bring business to Ballard, which has few hotels. Owner-occupied rentals should not be interfered with unless there is sound evidence that neighbors are having their own property rights interfered with. That is a high bar.
Roald Severtson, Seattle
Short-term rentals might contribute to rising rents
An owner-occupied rule is very much in order. We want to prevent the current situation where people buy multiple condominium units and rent them out on a week-to-week and even day-by-day basis, disrupting the peace and security of entire residential buildings.
I don’t think putting a time limit on the number of days an owner could rent his or her unit out would interfere with the private homeowner who wants to rent a room on a month-by-month basis. I hope some residential rental regulation is created. As it stands now, the short term rental industry is another factor in our ever-increasing rents.
Instead, I believe that being more permissive with what is allowed as a mother-in-law unit would greatly increase the housing supply and help make more low-cost units available.
Jerry Johnson, Seattle
A way out of a financial pickle
I’ve used VRBO for nearly 20 years as a guest, and Airbnb since its inception. I’ve found wonderful places to stay that have opened the door to local experiences I wouldn’t otherwise have had. This has been especially helpful traveling as a family with two young children. I’m able to rent a place with a kitchen and save on dining costs for while experiencing fresh local food from farmers markets.
I never intended to own two properties, but got stuck with the condominium I used to live in when we bought our house in West Seattle just as the local housing market began to fall apart. In an effort to avoid foreclosure, I first rented it as a long-term rental. The rent wasn’t enough to cover my mortgage, and I paid the additional $8,000 per year out of my small retirement savings. Adding insult to injury, the second tenant destroyed my newly refinished 1923 oak floors, leaving more than $2,500 in damages.
Since 2009, I’ve listed the condominium as a short-term rental, and each year the gap between my income and expenses has grown smaller. This last year, for the very first time, I earned enough money to fully pay the mortgage and homeowners’ association dues.
Not once in seven years has a guest left my place damaged. My business is licensed, and I’ve paid taxes on all of the income since 2009. The ability to list my place as a short-term rental saved my family from having to go through foreclosure, and that property is now all I have left in terms of retirement savings.
David Ginsberg, Seattle
Short-term rentals help keep tourist dollars local
I have hosted a basement room and an attached cottage to my house since 2012 on Airbnb. It’s fabulous and supplements our income. If we are restricted in number of days, we will not rent either unit out long-term. Seattle benefits from Airbnb, as the tourist dollars flow to middle-class folks like us, versus a hotel chain downtown. We refer guests to local restaurants and other local businesses.
The only regulation should be to require that the homeowner live in the house. Restricting the number of days would be a gift to the hotel lobby and yet another example of the middle class losing out to corporate greed.
When Seattle tried to limit Uber, the masses fought back. Expect the same with overregulation of Airbnb.
Phil Brennan, Seattle