Members of the Portland City Council’s Housing Committee said rules for short-term rentals proposed by city staff were too restrictive and agreed during a meeting Wednesday night to pursue looser regulations for the popular accommodations.
The five committee members agreed in principle with a framework that would allow people to rent out their private homes and operate commercial short-term rentals in apartment buildings. The committee diverged on details, however, like whether there should be a cap on the number of short-term rentals per apartment building.
“I want to permit multi-unit building short-term rentals, but I want to limit it,” Committee Chairwoman Jill Duson said. She expects the committee to have a recommendation for the full council by its next meeting in the second week of November.
Portland is among a growing number of cities worldwide that have moved to reign in the rapid growth of short-term rentals of private properties offered through websites like Airbnb because of fears they could reduce available rental housing, decrease safety and disrupt neighborhoods.
Last month, the city proposed rules that would restrict short-term rentals to primary residences, require annual registration, allow a maximum of six guests at a time, and impose fines of up to $10,000 for unregistered operation. More than a hundred people came to a hearing this month, many in support of short-term rentals.
Committee members said Wednesday that those rules were too stringent and questioned how much of a problem short-term rentals posed to Portland’s housing crisis.
“I have yet to be convinced that short-term rentals are having a negative impact on housing stock in Portland,” at-large Councilor Nick Mavodones said.
According to an analysis from the city, there are roughly 440 Airbnb units in Portland, and 150 are rented commercially, about 1 percent of units on the peninsula. The housing office has argued putting those units back on the market could reduce the city’s housing crunch. A 66 percent growth over 2015 of Airbnb listings for entire homes or apartments worried officials that investors will buy scarce housing and convert it to short-term rentals.
Property owners stand to make more money with short-term rentals than traditional leases, Mayor Ethan Strimling said at the meeting, adding that without adequate regulation the practice could have a bigger affect on Portland’s housing in the near future.
“It’s impossible for me to look at this and say ‘It is not having an impact,'” Strimling said. “I’m concerned about it and I hope we can do something about it.”
The committee’s other criticisms of the city’s plan included the high fines, exclusion of Portland islands from regulation, restriction to primary residences, and the three-strike violation limit proposed by city staff.
Committee members agreed that problem properties, like a notorious party house in Bradley Street, could be addressed by the city’s disorderly property ordinance. They also agreed with general regulations like annual registration, fees and life-safety requirements.
The committee warmed to an alternate proposal from District 1 Councilor Belinda Ray. Ray’s tiered approach would allow short-term rentals in single family homes, owner-occupied multi-unit buildings and in large apartment buildings, on a limited basis.
“I would be interested in something like that if we could figure out how to do it,” said David Brenerman, the committee vice chairman. “I think it shouldn’t just be owner-occupied units that can be used for short-term rentals, that’s my feeling today.”
But District 2 Councilor Spencer Thibodeau said he would prefer less restrictive rules than those proposed by Ray. Short-term rentals offer people interested in moving to Portland a way to experience the city and is good advertising for Portland, Thibodeau said. The city should be helping, not hindering their use, he added.
“The opportunity we have as a committee is to work with Airbnb owners … to make what has been created viable and work in this city,” Thibodeau said.
Residents at the meeting appeared to be receptive to the committee’s take on the city’s rules. Daniel Steele said he had recently converted space into a commercial building he owns into residential units and planned to rent them out as short-term rentals.
“This is an opportunity for Portland to be a model for how a city can do it rather than outright bans that can be a highly political touchstone,” Steele said.