Politics & Government

Tacoma weighs ‘hands-off’ regulations for Airbnb, short-term rentals

The Airbnb application and website are displayed on an Apple iPhone and iPad on March 21, 2014.
The Airbnb application and website are displayed on an Apple iPhone and iPad on March 21, 2014. Bloomberg via Getty Images

In one of Tacoma’s Airbnb listings, sweeping water views and a cozy one-bedroom are pitched to potential guests for $89 a night.

“Views Galore! Relax on the deck with sweeping and spectacular views of Puget Sound, Olympic Mtns (sic) and Narrows Bridge,” the post reads. According to the website, it’s one of more than 300 home-share stays offered up in Tacoma.

As sites like Airbnb continue to grow in popularity, the city is looking for the first time at regulating these short-term rentals. So far, it is taking a fairly hands-off approach.

The city’s proposal to regulate rentals of 30 days or less is “relatively simple and basic,” planner Stephen Atkinson told the City Council at a study session Tuesday.

It’s less demanding than the codes proposed in cities like Portland, New York and San Francisco, said senior planner Lihuang Wung. For instance, in Portland, hosts with an accessory short-term rental permit have to live in the home at least 270 days a year.

This is a surging industry where people are making some money with spare rooms that they have

Lihuang Wung, senior planner, city of Tacoma

Tacoma currently has no rules for short-term rentals. The proposed regulations take a light approach, but the city can change them later if problems crop up, Wung said.

“This is a surging industry where people are making some money with spare rooms that they have,” Wung said. “They are contributing to the local economy and tourism — just like Uber drivers may be your best tour guide, the people hosting tenants or visitors from out of town may be their best resource in town.”

The proposed regulations, scheduled to be voted on by the City Council on Aug. 2, will require those renting out rooms or properties to get a business license from the city. Licenses cost $25 for people who expect to make less than $12,000 a year on their rentals and $90 for others.

Hosts who live on-site could rent up to nine guest rooms, and a host who doesn’t live on-site could rent an entire house (but not individual rooms) for up to 30 days at a time. The units would have to be equipped with smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

Rentals with less than three guest rooms and rentals of an entire home would be allowed in all zoning districts except for industrial, but rentals with between three and nine guest rooms wouldn’t be allowed in single-family residential zones.

The proposed new code for short-term rentals is part of the planning department’s yearly amendment to the comprehensive plan and land use code. The department said it didn’t get any public comments about short-term rentals, and it has been notified of only two related complaints in the city in the last several years, Wung said. The city’s chief concerns are making sure the rentals are safe and don’t disturb the character of the neighborhood, Wung said.

Councilman Robert Thoms said at the study session that residents he’d spoken to in his district weren’t overly concerned about the effect of vacation rentals.

“Many of the folks that live there avail themselves of these similar services in other cities, and wanted to know that if we had a policy where it got out of bounds with their sensibilities, we were appropriately putting in the right types of fees ... as long as it has some confines to it,” he said.

Candice Ruud: 253-597-8441, @candiceruud

  Comments