The short-term rental hosts warned City Council members that the regulations would prevent them from providing inexpensive accommodations to visitors, sometimes to see relatives hospitalized with illnesses.
Dozens of people who list homes on short-term rental platforms such as Airbnb showed up en masse Wednesday at City Hall to speak out against new regulations proposed by Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess and Mayor Ed Murray.
The short-term rental hosts warned council members the rules would prevent them from making money they use to pay their mortgages and send their children to college and would stop them from providing inexpensive accommodations to visitors, sometimes to see relatives hospitalized with illnesses.
Some suggested the city raise taxes on hosts to help build low-income housing rather than restrict short-term rental operations that contribute millions of dollars to the city’s economy. That would require a change in state law, however.
Don Mackenzie, of Wallingford, said he and his wife rent a unit on Airbnb for the half year that his mother-in-law lives elsewhere.
Mackenzie said the new regulations would “deprive us of our ability to keep ourselves afloat” during hard times.
Other people, including a smaller number of hosts, spoke in support of the rules proposed last month, arguing the changes would allow part-time entrepreneurs to thrive while reining in large-scale, commercial operations. Under the regulations, only property owners renting out their own residence would be allowed to operate year-round.
Those renting out an additional home would be limited to 90 total nights of short-term stays over a period of 12 months.
David Kaatz said he and his wife started listing their Wedgwood home on Airbnb after their daughter left for college. The new rules wouldn’t ban that, though the couple would need a special license from the city to list their home for more than 90 nights.
“We’re pleased with the proposal put forward by Councilmember Burgess,” Kaatz said.
Some owners of traditional bed-and-breakfasts urged the council to use the new regulations to level the playing field between them and hosts using platforms such as Airbnb. But owners of vacation-rental companies said the rules would shut them down.
One person used the council’s public-comment period to raise questions about the impact of short-term rentals on Seattle’s neighborhoods.
Internet- and app-based short-term rental platforms are growing rapidly. Airbnb has more than 4,000 listings in Seattle, having added an average of 600 per year since 2009, according to a report by the Puget Sound Sage think tank.
“Will nonoccupied Airbnb owners vote to support local school levies?” asked Denise Derr, who lives on Queen Anne. “Will their guests participate in neighborhood-watch programs? Are we innovating or disrupting the social fabric?”
The council’s housing committee was discussing the proposed regulations for the first time.
The rules would apply to all nonhotel bookings of 30 or fewer consecutive nights at properties in residential zones.
Murray and Burgess, who chairs the committee, say their aim is to preserve housing for renters who live and work in a city with high rents and a low vacancy rate.
They say some people with multiple properties are operating them as illegal hotels. The regulations, they say, would keep landlords from choosing tourists over tenants.
Short-term rentals have arguably sped up gentrification in San Francisco and other cities. Belltown resident Kathy Cook told council members Wednesday that more than 50 of the units in her condo building are short-term rentals.
The Puget Sound Sage report estimates 1,600 long-term homes could be converted to short-term rentals or built for short-term renting over the next three years.
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Mackenzie, the host from Wallingford, noted the proposed regulations wouldn’t make his Airbnb unit available to regular tenants.
“This is not a unit that can go back onto the long-term rental market. My mother-in-law uses it for half the year,” he said.
Charlie Cunniff, who uses Airbnb to rent a Fremont duplex, predicted the rules would drive the short-term business underground, onto less reliable sites, such as Craigslist.
Airbnb said Wednesday that 87 percent of the company’s hosts in Seattle rent their own homes and there were 198,000 guest arrivals in the city last year.
The next committee discussion will be July 20. The City Council is scheduled to vote on the proposed regulations in August.
In a blog post, the Sightline Institute said cracking down on short-term rentals could be a zero-sum game for housing affordability because increased demand for hotel rooms could lead to more hotel construction, taking land away from housing.
Running for re-election last year, Burgess received maximum campaign contributions from several hotel-industry players, and an independent-expenditure committee supporting him collected $28,000 from a restaurant and lodging group.