Prohibit Vacation Rentals - Now!

Byy On
• In Bellingham,

Many supporters of vacation rentals, especially those who came forward at the 18 June council hearing,* spoke to their personal experiences as vacation rental owners. First, it boggles one’s mind that so many property owners openly admit in front of council that they have been violating Bellingham’s laws prohibiting such rentals. Over 300 vacation rentals operate illegally within the city limits. At the same time, these owners plead to the council that they be allowed to continue as before with an ordinance that would legalize their present scofflaw behavior. Their sense of entitlement is appalling. The phrase “unmitigated gall” comes to mind.

Their testimony of personal experience is entirely anecdotal and self-serving. Claims that this city should have a vacation rental ordinance that would help homeowners remain in their homes by providing additional income are unverified. Nobody has a scintilla of direct evidence that any of these properties are used to support families who might otherwise be on the street were it not for the income. The fact is, we have no idea who these vacation rental property owners are, their reason for renting to vacationers rather than locals, or the number of rentals each property owner or corporation possesses.

Without a total inventory of these vacation dwellings, including names of each party - corporate or otherwise - we have no idea what we are talking about. We have no way to evaluate the claims of those who come forward pleading economic necessity. We cannot determine the extent of problems regarding the geographical concentration of these units, or absentee ownership, or business ownership solely for profit.

The council should return to square one and reject the planning commission’s ill-advised draft ordinance permitting vacation rentals at the expense of year round housing. A moratorium on vacation rentals should be declared immediately. Yes - shut down these illegal and un-inspected units while a serious city-wide discussion is carried out regarding the advisability of allowing the commercialization of neighborhoods and the use of our housing stock for transients rather than our own citizens. If you want to run a bed and breakfast establishment (BMC 10.16.020 Conditional Uses), there is an existing process.

Those council members who voted to allow detached accessory dwelling units city wide are now squirming with their knickers in a wad as they try to reconcile their insistence on creating housing for residents, while simultaneously trying to allow vacation rentals that remove housing stock from the inventory. Finally, as called out during the 18 January hearing by a city resident, council members Hammill and Barker should recuse themselves from all discussions of rental issues given that each is a landlord who stands to gain financially from ordinances regarding their use.

*The portion on vacation rentals is at 1.08.00 on the video counter. The mayor speaks at 1.19.45 saying she cannot support this ordinance as written but would support “the Portland model” essentially renting a room in one’s own house. The hearing comments begin shortly after the mayor speaks.

About Dick Conoboy

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Member since Jan 26, 2008

Dick Conoboy is a recovering civilian federal worker and military officer who was offered and accepted an all-expense paid, one year trip to Vietnam in 1968. He is a former Army [...]

Comments by Readers

Michael Riordan

Jun 30, 2018

Given its desirability as a vacation destination, San Juan County has been dealing with this problem for years but not very effectively. For example, there are now about 300 KNOWN transient vacation rentals on Orcas Island where I live, and probably many more unknown rentals. These make it extremely difficult for the swell of summer workers, in hotels and restaurants in particular, to find decent places to live. Some have literally taken to the woods in desperation, living in tents or makeshift shelters. Luckily for them, it doesn’t rain much in the summer—today’s weather notwithstanding.

All these transient rentals are supposed to obtain permits and pay lodging taxes of some 10 percent, but many did not and do not. One thing County officials can do is seek the miscreants out by answering their advertisements and imposing stiff fines and penalties plus payment of back taxes. But will these spineless officials do so?

Only if an observant, independent press holds their feet to the fire—perhaps by pointing out actual egregious examples that have gone overlooked.


Mickey McDiarmid

Jul 13, 2018

I too was surprised how many people openly admitted to breakingthis law, while the rest of us remain within the bounds of the law.  Seemingly, it is ok to do as you want and then beg to have the law changed to approve it. I also in my letter to City Council asked for a stiff fine (to add to home fund) and that those who have jumped the gun, have their names  put at the bottom ofthe list ofapplicants, that will newly file on day one, after approval.

Yes only a solid citizen would recuse themselves of talking and voting on this issue, due to their own personal gain. We’ll see who stands up to that scrutiny.



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