An attempt to prohibit new backyard cottages from being used as short-term rentals, such as those listed on Airbnb, was rebuffed Tuesday as a City Council committee advanced legislation that would allow more and larger cottages and parent-in-law apartments across Seattle.
But council members in the coming weeks may continue to debate whether to try to stop developers from using the new rules to build and rent out three new homes on a single lot.
Councilmember Mike O’Brien has championed the plan, which would allow two accessory units on a lot while removing requirements for off-street parking and for property owners to live on site. The legislation also would tighten restrictions on large single-family houses.
Supporters describe the long-delayed changes as a delicate way to open up Seattle’s less-dense residential neighborhoods — along with their schools and parks — to people who can’t afford to buy or rent entire houses.
Though council members disagreed on some tweaks, they voted unanimously to move the plan out of O’Brien’s sustainability committee. A final vote is set for July 1.
“We’re really close,” said O’Brien, who’s been working on the issue for years.
Councilmember Lisa Herbold said barring new backyard cottages from being operated as short-term rentals would ensure their use as housing for Seattle residents.
“We’re in an affordable-housing crisis, and I think we really need to be focused on making sure the units … are use for long-term rentals,” she said.
Council President Bruce Harrell supported Herbold, but O’Brien and Councilmember Abel Pacheco blocked the amendment. Some cottage landlords may want to switch to short-term renters during the summer, they said, mentioning landlords in the University District, who cater to students during the school year.
Seattle allows property owners to operate their own home and one additional unit as a short-term rental. To address concerns about cottages being used as short-term rentals, O’Brien suggested the city consider revising that law at a later date.
“I’m not sure where I stand,” he said. “I want to see more analysis.”
Herbold is also interested in stopping developers from buying older houses, bulldozing them and replacing them with three new rental homes. The city’s environmental review of the legislation determined that wouldn’t happen a great deal, but the council member remains worried about the prospect, she said.
Seattle now requires property owners with backyard cottages and parent-in-law apartments to live on site. O’Brien’s legislation would remove that provision.
On Tuesday, Herbold said the city should maintain a more modest ownership requirement. Under her proposal, Seattle would require a year of continuous ownership before allowing a second accessory unit to be built on a property.
Herbold won support from Harrell but tabled the idea Tuesday when she saw O’Brien and Pacheco were ready to vote no. She could reintroduce the concept July 1.
O’Brien previously supported an ownership requirement for a second accessory unit but now wants to do whatever possible “to allow more housing opportunities” on blocks where apartments are banned, he said.
No council members objected to the “McMansion” provision of O’Brien’s legislation, which would outlaw certain large houses based on their floor area and lot size.
Jeannine Shingler, a 63-year-old who recently moved from Vancouver, Washington, to a cottage in her daughter’s Beacon Hill backyard, urged the council to make similar arrangements possible for more people.
She said accessory units can help reduce pollution because they allow more people to live in Seattle, where they can get around without cars.
“It’s been a really amazing experience,” she said later. “My daughter and I have grown closer than we’ve ever been.”
The “nitty-gritty” questions related to short-term rentals and ownership requirements involve “tough choices,” Shingler said.