July 2nd, 2014 | by AARON MESH News | Posted In: City Hall, Business, Housing

Mayor Charlie Hales Looking At Allowing Airbnb in Apartments and Condos

UPDATE: City Council will decide in October.

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Portland Mayor Charlie Hales wants to amend city zoning code to allow short-term rentals like Airbnb in apartments and condominiums.

"It was not in the original proposal from the [planning] bureau, but we asked the bureau to look into it," says Hales spokesman Dana Haynes. "Expecting good debate today."

The hearing on Airbnb and other short-term rentals—when amendments to zoning code can be proposed—is at 2 pm today. Hales' possible amendment to allow apartments and condos has already drawn opposition.

"The mayor's office has specifically said they want to consider multifamily housing," says Deborah Imse, executive director of property management association Multifamily NW. "We have a lot of serious concerns."

City Council later this month is expected to make it legal for the home-rental marketplace Airbnb to operate in Portland. The decision will give Airbnb a legitimacy it lacks in other cities, including New York, which is cracking down on the company that matches homeowners with tenants looking for a short-term rental.

Hales' office has championed the San Francisco-based startup, which is moving its operational headquarters to a building in Old Town, bringing its North American call center along with 160 jobs.

In January, Portland planning officials proposed zoning-code changes that would ease restrictions, allowing people to rent out one or two bedrooms of their homes after paying a small fee. But the people renting out their rooms must live on the property—and the code changes don't extend to apartments and condos. 

Several city commissioners have expressed skepticism about changing the zoning code any further.

But Airbnb is still lobbying to broaden the changes, asking clients to attend today's hearing and lobby City Council to extend its permission to apartments and condos.

"Their current proposal takes  many big steps forward," Airbnb officials wrote to clients last week, "but still prevents Portlanders who live in apartments and condos from sharing their homes. Our goal is to fill the City Council Chambers with home sharers showing support like we did last time!"

Multifamily NW director Imse says her association members—who manage more than 150,000 housing units in the Portland area—are troubled by the idea of allowing vacationers access to apartment common areas without a background check.

And she says Airbnb violates the terms of many apartment leases.

"We have thousands of rentals that prohibit this kind of activity," Imse says. "If the city is OK'ing this and issuing permits to people who would be violating their lease, you raise false expectations that people are going to be able to do this." 

UPDATE, 6:15 pm: Hales submitted an amendment at this afternoon's hearing that would allow Airbnb and other short-term rentals "in multi-dwelling structures beginning January 1, 2015."

The vote on legalizing short-term rentals was moved forward to a July 23 vote.

Fish was especially skeptical, scoffing at the argument that since short-term rentals are already happening in apartments and condos, the city should legalize them and collect the 11.5 percent hotel tax.

By that logic, Fish said, "we should just start taxing prostitution."

UPDATE, 12:29 pm Thursday, July 3: Hales ended the hearing by postponing a vote on his amendment, which would allow Airbnb and other short-term rentals in apartments and condos. The 90-day delay means City Council will decide in October.

 
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