Seattle imposes new limits on Airbnb, other short-term rentals with 7-0 council vote

Council members said the new regulations are meant to preserve Seattle’s housing stock for local residents. But a special deal for some existing operators stirred controversy.

By limiting the number of homes that property owners can operate as short-term rentals for visitors, can Seattle preserve its housing stock for locals?

The City Council decided to try the strategy Monday, voting 7-0 to enact new regulations for short-term rentals, including those listed on platforms such as Airbnb and HomeAway.

Council members said they want to rein in a rapidly growing industry that caters to tourists and other out-of-towners looking for alternatives to hotels.

With rents and home prices rising and affordable housing in short supply, Seattle can’t afford to lose permanent units, council members said.

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“I’m proud of where we’ve gone today,” Councilmember Mike O’Brien said. “I think we’ve created a path for people to continue to operate successful businesses. There will be some changes, for sure, and I think those changes overall will be better for the community.”

The regulations, which will take effect on Jan. 1, 2019, will require all operators of short-term rentals to obtain licenses and will limit new operators to listing their primary residence and one additional unit. Existing operators across most of the city will be limited to renting out two units (three if adding their primary residence at a later date).

Only existing operators with short-term rentals in the downtown core and in small buildings constructed after 2012 on First Hill and Capitol Hill will be grandfathered in. They’ll be allowed to continue listing as many units as they do now, plus their primary residence and one additional unit.

The new limits won’t affect mom-and-pop operators using their own homes to make ends meet, council members said. They said the limits are meant to prevent business people from taking large numbers of units off the housing market and from converting neighborhood apartment buildings into de-facto hotels.

The regulations, which Seattle officials began working on about two years ago, garnered support Monday from a variety of interested parties.

Representatives for Puget Sound Sage, a nonprofit organization concerned about short-term rentals contributing to gentrification, urged the council to take action.

The city has lost more than 2,000 housing…

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