The decision means tenants in multifamily buildings across the city can legally seek permits and list their homes on sites like Airbnb, just like occupants of single-family homes. But the council's vote, despite behind-the-scenes work by Mayor Charlie Hales' office to build consensus, wasn't quite the unanimous endorsement everyone expected.
Commissioner Nick Fish stood out from the rest of his colleagues with a strongly phrased "no" vote, taking issue with promises and threats by hosts and providers to balk at tax and code enforcement provisions the council was set to consider in a separate ordinance.
"I cannot in good conscience vote to expand the authority [to do short-term rentals in multifamily units] at this time," Fish said, "until the industry says that it understands that safe dwelling units are a collective responsibility."
The new enforcement ordinance, which will return for a final vote next week after a technical change this morning, would compel listing sites and booking agents to verify whether the "hosts" who list their units have permits. The ordinance also would require sites and agents to turn over hosts' contact information and addresses—making spot code enforcement easier but also helping the city to collect lodging taxes. The city has a similar tax deal in place with Airbnb; Airbnb has hemmed and hawed about verifying whether hosts who list their homes have permits.
Hosts also must pay a modest $100 fee, be the unit's primary occupant, receive approval from their landlord or property manager and tell their neighbors and neighborhood associations about their plans. Beyond those rules, only up to 25 percent of a building (with at least three units) can be offered up for short-term rentals. That cap had initially been set at 10 percent amid pushing by Fish and housing advocates worried that short-term rentals will choke off an already-fragile supply of affordable units.
Overall, only a fraction of Portlanders offering their homes up for rent have applied for permits. Yesterday, a lobbyist for a firm representing "Internet" companies including Amazon, Airbnb, Uber, Lyft, and Facebook wrote in the Oregonian about how the proposed rules smack of "Big Brother"-style government overreach. Then, this morning, the Washington, DC-based Short Term Rental Advocacy Center, wrote a letter calling the multifamily regulations "dangerous" saying the rules weren't "sound public policy" and argues the city's protections are "too onerous."
Fish called those complaints "ridiculous" and said the rules are designed to ensure tax fairness but also that units are safe and meet basic standards. He said 93 percent of short-term rentals offered in Portland right now are technically being listed illegally.
"Let's be very clear," he said. "we're being told it's a violation of privacy rights, federal law, and constitutional protections to mandate that a platform, the company that makes money by advertisign those units, verify that someone has a permit and is operating legally."
By saying yes, "we are essentially sanctioning behavior which we know puts guests in harm's way."
His colleagues—Hales and Commissioners Steve Novick, Amanda Fritz, and Dan Saltzman—were far less pointed in their remarks when it came to the industry's threats.
Novick, at least, acknowledged the caution advocates have sounded over housing. He wants the city to study how the embrace of short-term rentals might affect housing prices and availability, here and in other cities. If that affect is negative?
"If so, my recommendation would be that we re-outlaw this practice," Novick said. "That would mean we'd have to come up with enforcement resources that so far have been lacking."