Portland city councilors continued hammering out proposed regulations for short-term rentals offered by online services like Airbnb on Thursday, but could not reach a consensus on key policy issues.

The council’s housing committee meeting Thursday was dominated by a discussion of whether capping the number of short-term rentals allowed per building or imposing progressively more expensive per-unit registration fees would limit the number of units in the city.

Housing advocates and city officials worry that the increase in short-term rentals makes the city’s rental housing crunch worse, although hosts say the impact of short-term rentals is overstated. Councilors have said they want to allow short-term rentals, but the practice needs some rules.

“I don’t want to wait until we have a serious problem to regulate,” said Councilor Belinda Ray.

Portland is one of many cities across the globe struggling with how to regulate the rapid growth of peer-to-peer services that offer short-term housing for vacationers and travelers. The practice is technically not allowed in most parts of Portland under its zoning ordinance, but the city has suspended enforcement against zoning violators until new rules are in place. The housing committee is expected to pass a package of regulations to the City Council for a vote.

The five-member housing committee has been tackling the short-term rental issue since early October. Councilors agreed with many of the proposed rules drawn up by city staff this fall, such as registration and safety inspections. But councilors opposed limiting the rentals to a person’s primary residence.


Ray, at a committee meeting in late October, instead proposed a tiered system that would also allow owners of apartment buildings to rent out limited numbers of units short-term, even if the building was not their primary residence.

A revised set of proposed rules released by the city this week incorporates Ray’s suggestion. Hosts that registered their primary residence as a short-term rental would pay a $35 annual fee, while non-owner occupied units would pay a $500 fee for an entire unit and a $250 fee for a single room.

At the meeting Thursday, Ray said putting a per-building cap on short-term rentals would keep too many units from being rented as long-term housing, which helps preserve neighborhoods.

But councilors David Brenerman and Spencer Thibodeau said creating a tiered fee structure, instead of limiting the number of units per building devoted to short-term rentals, could achieve the same end. They proposed starting fees at $35 for a primary residence, but quickly escalating them for each additional unit registered, into the thousands of dollars per unit.

“Something like this is a way I hope we can control what is happening and raise enough money so we can have someone in the inspections department who gains experience in short-term rentals,” Brenerman said.

Thibodeau said he would be in favor of a cap on short-term rentals on larger buildings, but didn’t think the issue was enough of a problem for smaller apartment buildings. “I’m not for any sort of cap today, but I could be in the future,” Thibodeau said.


Committee Chairwoman Jill Duson said she was concerned that tiered fees would allow people to buy as many units as they want for short-term rentals despite the impact to the neighborhood.

To move things forward, Ray and Thibodeau agreed to bring two options to the committee the next time it meets. Other issues tabled for discussion were how to regulate short-term rentals on Portland islands and whether to have a cap on the total number of short-term rental units allowed in the city.

Although committee appointments may change after new city councilors are sworn in next week, Duson said she wanted all current committee members to attend the next meeting to finish discussion on the short-term rental issue.


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