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  • 21 Nov 2014

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City Council finalizes ordinance to legalize Airbnb style rentals here

Portland city commissioners informally agreed Wednesday to legalize Airbnb-style short-term rentals in single-family homes, if the host pays a $180 permit fee, gets their home inspected every six years, pays lodging taxes and lives on-site at least nine months out of the year. Hosts may use a third party, such as a family member or professional property manager, to run their in-home business, under an amendment approved Wednesday. City commissioners also will require hosts to post their permit number at their home and in any advertising, to provide more consumer protection.

Short-term rentals are the staple of new “sharing economy” companies such as Airbnb and HomeAway, which use the Internet to arrange renters in peoples’ homes for stays of less than 30 days. Technically, it’s still illegal in Portland, though more than 1,500 properties are listed inside the city on Airbnb’s website.

After hearing nearly three hours of testimony on a proposed short-term rental ordinance, the City Council approved a package of final amendments Wednesday, giving final form to a measure expected to be formally adopted at the council’s July 23 meeting. Each amendment passed unanimously, a sign there is consensus now on the final ordinance.

Mayor Charlie Hales proposed an additional amendment that would allow short-term rentals in apartments and condos, if hosts get signed permission from their landlord or homeowners association. After running into resistance from at least two of his peers, Hales pulled the amendment, and expects to bring it back to the council in a few months.

Airbnb says at least one-third of its Portland hosts live in apartments and condos, and the San Francisco-based company mobilized many of those hosts Wednesday to testify in favor of legalizing such operations here.

Mayor Hales supported the idea where it won’t bother the landlord and condo owners association, though it’s unclear in how many cases that would really apply.

“We’re trying to legalize what’s already going on, in a way that’s sensible,” said the mayor, who is also a landlord.

Hales wanted to start allowing short-term rentals in multifamily units by January 1, and work out any kinks in the plan between now and then.

Commissioner Amanda Fritz scoffed at Hales’ argument that the city should legalize short-term rentals in apartments and condos, because it’s already happening.

“That has never been a compelling argument to me,” Fritz said. Most Portlanders will follow the law, she predicted.

Commissioner Nick Fish said there could be many unintended consequences of allowing short-term rentals in multifamily properties.

Condo owner Peter Covington said it was “classist” to allow short-term rentals in single-family homes but not multifamily properties. “So I believe this is an equity issue,” Covington said. “Trying to regulate who can come and go from my condo seems liks government overreach.”

Many neighborhood association leaders previously testified that allowing freewheeling use of short-term rentals in residential areas runs counter to the city’s comprehensive land use plan. But the leader of the state’s land use watchdog group, 1000 Friends of Oregon executive director Jason Miner, had a different take Wednesday.

“Our planning code should encourage access to prosperity, not deny it,” Miner testified. He suggested the city should legalize short-term rentals in apartments and condos.

One of those unintended consequences Fish was referring to is the potential impact on the city’s supply of affordable housing.

Cynthia Brown, a landlord, testified that she could make “three to four times as much money” by converting her rental units into short-term Airbnb-style properties. That’s because people are paying up to $100 or more a night here for Airbnb stays.

Rosemary Brown, who owns a modest seven-unit apartment on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard, said she’d like the right to convert a few of those 350-square-foot units into short-term rental properties.

That, Fish said, would mean the loss of affordable housing, which he doesn’t want to see.

Hales asked city planners to meet with affordable housing advocates, landlords and others in the coming months to frame an amendment to allow short-term rentals in apartments and condos.

He hopes to bring that back to the council this fall for a vote.

Steve Law can reached at 503-546-5139 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Twitter: @SteveLawTrib