Proposed short-term rental regulations are good for Seattle and for Airbnb hosts

For decades, Seattle residents have opened their homes to visitors. In a time of rising income inequality, online short-term rental (STR) platforms have made it easier for Seattle families to share their extra space and earn money to make ends meet.

At the same time, the number of people coming to Seattle to experience the city’s world-class restaurants, exciting sports teams, innovative business community and natural beauty is growing.

Many of these visitors are looking for affordable places to stay and want to explore unique neighborhoods, like Fremont and West Seattle, rather than stay in traditional hotel districts. But many of these areas lack the hotel rooms to accommodate them.

In response, Seattle’s STR community has grown, expanding flexible lodging capacity and delivering economic benefits to residents and neighborhoods that haven’t traditionally benefited from tourism.

Just this summer, there were over 194,000 Airbnb guest arrivals to Seattle, including more than 24,500 family arrivals, contributing about $112 million in guest spending. And with 42% of Airbnb guest spending done in the neighborhoods in which they stay, that’s meaningful economic impact for the city. Rather than building expensive hotels just for an influx of summer visitors, Seattle benefits when these visitors stay with locals, and residents earn a little extra money at the same time.

The City of Seattle has studied how to balance the benefits of STRs while protecting housing supply.

After nearly two years of thoughtful work and gathering input from online platforms, community groups and the Airbnb host community, the city proposed a comprehensive set of regulations that have the potential to be a model for communities throughout the nation.

The regulations establish:

  • A clear regulatory framework. Hosts could obtain permits for their primary residence and up to one other property. Mom-and-pop operators who lawfully operated this fall could obtain a license to continue to operate up to two dwelling units as STRs.
  • An easy registration system. Hosts would register with the city and pay a small annual fee.
  • A new revenue source for affordable housing and projects to fight displacement. Last month, the City Council passed a new STR tax that will generate an estimated $7 million dollars a year for these programs.

We want to be good partners with Seattle. That’s why we’ve been at the table since the beginning, prepared to support reasonable regulations including limits on the number of properties hosts can list and a tax that would create an even playing field for STRs and the big hotels.

We’re also proposing new tools, which will allow STR hosts to register directly through the Airbnb platform, ensuring high compliance and giving the city the information needed to enforce the law. Those who fail to register would be removed from the platform.

While we’re pleased fair STR regulations are moving forward, we have very serious concerns the city is considering an additional nightly booking license fee, on top of the new short-term rental tax that charges entire homes listings $14 a night and private rooms $8 a night, a rate that already adds up to more than the big hotels are paying. No other city in the country imposes such a fee, and with the higher tax and other permit and license fees, the city is already generating substantial revenues to cover administrative costs.

Airbnb helps many longtime Seattle residents afford to stay in their neighborhoods, pay the bills and save for retirement, while allowing families to afford to visit the city and stay together in a home.

The compromise proposal moving to City Council will allow Seattle to harness the economic contributions of STRs for the community and residents, while putting in meaningful limits to control the growth of the industry.

We ask the City Council to approve the ordinance that passed out of committee, without additional fees or amendments that would hurt the ability of small mom-and-pop operators to support their families.