The city's long war with HomeAway appears to be at an end.
After a dispute that included three separate lawsuits and forced City Hall to ask voters for a change to the Portland charter, the city announced this afternoon it's reached a settlement with the short-term rental provider. That settlement involves reaping millions less than the City of Portland has claimed in the past HomeAway owes in lodging taxes, but could ensure the company—which includes HomeAway.com, VRBO.com and VacationRentals.com—will follow the letter of the law moving forward.
"This settlement is good news for our thriving tourism industry," Commissioner Nick Fish is quoted as saying in the release. "It levels the playing field for all hosts and helps us ensure that guests will be safe.”
The city's beef with HomeAway began when the company refused to collect the six percent "transient lodging" tax Portland slaps on hotel stays. The city sued for $2.5 million in 2015, with Portland's revenue director, Thomas Lannom, vowing: "We will not stand by while short-term rental websites flout basic consumer protection and tax laws."
But it wasn't quite that simple. HomeAway sued back, for starters. In both federal and state courts. And when a federal judge ruled that the city's charter language was getting in the way of officials being able to tax the company, city officials came to voters in May of 2017, asking them to expand City Hall's authority under the charter. The measure passed with 62 percent of the vote.
So here we are today. As part of its settlement, the city says it will get $275,000 from HomeAway—far less than it sought in past actions. Fish tells the Mercury that amount is close to everything HomeAway owes the city from the time voters changed city charter language.
In return, the city says the company has agreed to begin collecting lodging taxes as of April 1 (no word on why that date), and set up a robust registration system where hosts can use the site to apply for a short-term rental permit from the city.
HomeAway will pull any listings that don't obtain a city permit, the release says.
“When the City of Portland filed its lawsuit in 2015, it was seeking fair hotel tax collection and the locations of short-term rentals to ensure they are permitted and following the rules," Mayor Ted Wheeler is quoted as saying in the release. "This settlement delivers on both of those goals and opens the door to a partnership with HomeAway.”