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  • 26 Nov 2014

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My View: City vacation rental rules fail to catch air

Recently, when Airbnb announced that Portland was to be its initial “shared city,” Mayor Charlie Hales scored a huge victory in having Portland become the first city in the world for which Airbnb agreed to remit lodging taxes.

However, now that Portland has moved into the spotlight, it is more important than ever that Portland develop a comprehensive short-term rental policy that addresses all Airbnb rentals (as has Austin, Texas).

At about the same time, the city Bureau of Planning and Sustainability issued the RICAP 6 Proposal Draft of an ordinance on licensing short-term rentals. Actually the RICAP 6 proposal covers only 40 percent of the Airbnb listings for Portland — specifically about 400 “private room” rentals in single-family homes and duplexes that are the primary residence of the host. These are homeowners who would like to rent one or two rooms in their house to tourists.

I support the RICAP 6 proposal with some modifications — primarily that the host be living on-site during the guest’s stay and a higher biannual license charge be used to cover the cost of a biannual fire inspection.

However, RICAP 6 does not address:

• More than 400 unsupervised Airbnb “entire place” rentals

• Any Airbnb rental in a multifamily building

• Any “vacation rental” listings on VRBO, HomeAway and Flipkey.

Hundreds of these rentals are already in operation. The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability says that these rentals will simply continue to be “illegal,” which is to say that they will only be closed down when a complaint is filed. Yet it is difficult to file a complaint because all the major websites intentionally mask the name and address associated with the rental.

Therefore, I request that the City Council mandate and fund the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability to develop a licensing policy and process for the other 60 percent of the short-term rentals in Portland that are not currently covered by RICAP 6.

Also, as part of its recently announced partnership with Airbnb, and in exchange for implementing a reasonable licensing process, the city needs to have Airbnb provide the name and address of their advertisers to assist the city in compliance activities. Airbnb could do this with a one-sentence addition to its 43 pages of terms, and doing so would not endanger Airbnb’s basic business model.

Steve Unger is the innkeeper of Lion and the Rose, a Victorian Bed & Breakfast Inn in Northeast Portland.