Link to Owner Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr.



Portland is cracking down on several hundred people who are offering their homes for short-term rentals but failing to get city permits or pay lodging taxes. The city’s new stance could threaten Portland’s special relationship cultivated with San Francisco-based Airbnb, by far the largest company arranging short-term rentals here.

The Portland City Council voted 3 to 1 on Wednesday to give new enforcement tools to the Portland Revenue Bureau, which collects lodging taxes. The bureau gained new power to demand that Airbnb and other brokers of short-term rentals provide the names and addresses of all their Portland hosts, so the city can assure the hosts are getting the proper permits and paying lodging taxes for their in-home businesses.

Only about 7 percent of Airbnb’s several hundred Portland hosts have sought permits to use their properties for the bed-and-breakfast style operations since Portland legalized such activities last year.

The Portland Bureau of Development Services issues those permits and enforces the city’s rules. However, it has a laissez-faire approach, only intervening if a neighbor files a complaint against an errant host who failed to get a permit.

The Revenue Bureau promises to provide stricter enforcement, and is expected to provide the names of local hosts to the Bureau of Development Services.

Airbnb has been collecting lodging taxes for its local hosts, under a special arrangement with the city. However, the company has resisted giving up the names and addresses of its hosts.

Other companies, including HomeAway and FlipKey, haven’t been collecting taxes for the city, and also are resisting giving up their local hosts’ names and addresses.

City Commissioner Nick Fish expects the three companies to contest the new city ordinance in court.

“The industry has made it clear they do not intend to play ball with us on the enforcement side,” Fish said Wednesday when casting one of the three votes in favor of the new ordinance. “What we have been told by the industry is ‘butt out.’ ”

The city needs to assure that hosts get permits, Fish said, because those require cursory inspections to verify the properties being rented include smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and safe fire escape routes.

Otherwise, he said, “we cannot say with a straight face that the guest is safe.”

Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who oversees the Bureau of Development Services, cast the lone ‘no’ vote.

“It changes the way we do enforcement,” Fritz said. “We need to take a lesser, encouragement approach before we go after people with a big stick.”

After the vote, Airbnb’s local lobbyist, Dan Jarman, said the company expects to continue working with the city to encourage its local hosts to seek permits. However, the company has resisted pressure to refuse on-line listings of hosts who fail to get such permits.

Asked if Airbnb intends to sue over the city’s new ordinance, Jarman said “absolutely not.”

However, a legal conflict might arise once the city tries to apply the ordinance by asking Airbnb to divulge its local hosts’ names and addresses.

Despite concerns that short-term rental hosts are flouting city rules, the City Council voted last week to expand legal operations into apartments and condos. That will enable hundreds more Airbnb and other hosts to operate legally here, and they will now be required to seek permits and have their properties inspected.

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