Framing counts. That is why the city consistently refers to vacation rentals as short term rentals (STRs). Just another rental but…you know… short. I think an even better descriptor would be “vacation gig-rentals” in order to pay tribute to the gig economy that has spawned these hotel/motel “mini-mes” that may eventually turn your neighborhood, your block, your condo building into a tourist district. Quiet enjoyment? Fuggedaboutit!
But the city has already spoken as the City Council has passed an ordinance to countenance, and attempt to control, the proliferation of vacation rentals. This time council insists that the en”force“ment will be with us - thus spake several council members last Monday during a discussion (watch the 16 minute video here) of the fee structure resolution that must be in place by May 5th (The Kickoff!).
However, several council members spoke of their discontent with this fee structure which they found too high but nonetheless noting that the fees can be reviewed in the future:
”...staff proposes the following fees for STR land use permits:*
Type I: $246 (staff & contingency) + $123 consulting fee = $370
Type II: $430 (staff & contingency, includes $53 notice) + $123 consulting fee = $553 (rounded down to $550)
Type III-A: $297 (includes $53 notice fee) + $550 Hearing Examiner fee = $847
Renewal (before January 1 of every even-numbered year): $123 (staff & contingency) + $123 = $246 (rounded up to $250)” [See staff memo]
According to staff, the fees are pass-through costs; the city will make no money from the program. The financials are spelled out below in a rather confusing chart (Projected STR Fees Spreadsheet - found below). However, the reality on the ground at the moment is that the current estimated 308 illegal vacation rentals, will likely translate into an actual figure of 185 legal units since the city expects that of the 308, only 185 will either comply or qualify. You may be shocked to know that some will attempt to continue to operate illegally, but there is a private consultant whose business is monitoring the vacation rental industry. This firm will report under contract to the city so that illegal operators can be found and put out of business. We shall see, since the city’s code enforcement record with respect to rentals is, charitably speaking, spotty (e.g. illegal rooming houses).
Extrapolating from the city’s estimate, a presumed 13% per annum increase, we can expect about 300 units to be operating legally in the city by 2023. I have every faith that the bad operators out there will continue to attempt to operate under the city’s radar, hoping not to get caught. Others will use LLCs and such to disguise ownership and avoid the unit limits per rental owner. The ordinance says you cannot do this but enforcement is key and we have been down that pot-holed road before.
Using a simple division calculation would lead us to believe that out of 25 neighborhoods, each neighborhood might expect to “entertain” about a dozen legal vacation rentals (300/25=12). However, in terms of preferred neighborhoods, those close the the “action,” the numbers would be higher; we don’t expect to see many such rentals in the outlying areas. Consequently, neighborhoods that are already jammed with long-term rentals (many overcrowded) such as York, Sehome, South, Happy Valley, Fairhaven, South Hill, Lettered Streets, etc., will tend to attract more vacation rentals and the attendant problems seen all over the world: noise, litter, crowding, parking problems, etc. The horror stories abound.
Nevertheless, the City Council still thinks it is just ducky to allow hundreds of vacation rentals while at the same time crying crocodile tears that we are in the middle of a housing affordability and availability crisis.
*Note: Fees based on the process for approval necessary depending upon the land use zoning. (See: 21.l10.040 Types of Land Use Decisions and STR FAQs below)
Single-family zones:Type I up to 2 bedrooms; Type II up to 5 bedrooms
Multi-family zones:Type I up to 2 bedrooms; Type I up to 5 bedrooms
Condominiums in residential zones: Type III-A Where STRs exceed the maximum of 1 unit or 25% of the units (whichever is greater)— and condominium approval
Commercial and Urban Village zones: Type I Up to 5-bedrooms