5 Astonishing Airbnb Listings Show Portland's Rules Being Openly Flouted

It's easy to spot short-term rentals on the company’s website that break the city’s rules or seem to mock the housing crunch.

As Portland rents continue to climb, short-term rental companies have turned 1,000 affordable homes into hotel rooms for tourists, the Portland Housing Bureau estimated last week.

As WW reported last month, that's because the city's rules for companies like Airbnb are so laxly enforced that a company manager could flout them without consequences.

The number of units taken off the rental market aren't nearly enough to put a dent in the city's rental crunch, but they stand out because they operate in defiance of city rules—and because the city has yet to fine Airbnb.

Airbnb says it has shut down 44 illegal listings in the city, reviewed other listings with possible violations, and provided education on city rules to its hosts. "We are committed to working with the city to protect Portland's long-term housing stock," says Airbnb spokeswoman Laura Rillos.

But it's still easy to spot rentals on the company's website that break the city's rules or seem to mock the city's housing crunch.

(Joe Riedl) (Joe Riedl)

Neighborhood: Mount Tabor

Unit: Two-bedroom house

Cost per night: $118 for full house

Why it's illegal: No permit. Mel Hignell, 39, owns a company that manages Airbnb listings in Portland, Bend and New Orleans. She personally rents out properties—like her Tabor ranch house—in Portland and San Francisco, despite requirements by both cities that listers live in the units being rented. Hignell's company White Spider manages the rentals for 35 Portland homes, only one of which lists having a city permit, according to data from the website Inside Airbnb.

Owner response: Hignell, who declined to comment, took down her San Francisco listing. A White Spider representative says the company tells owners to get a permit, but it doesn't consider it the company's responsibility to check.

(Emily Joan Greene) (Emily Joan Greene)

Neighborhood: Arbor Lodge

Units: Five tents

Cost per night: As low as $20 for a tent

Why it's illegal: No permit. Also, tent camping isn't allowed in the city.

Owner response: Scott Davison of the nonprofit Vocoform runs the Arbor Lodge Urban Farm on a lot on North Interstate Avenue. "It was a way to get people to the property to volunteer, and to make a little money," he says. The tent camping will vanish next summer, he says. The nonprofit Central City Concern will start building affordable housing on the site within the next year.

(Joe Riedl) (Joe Riedl)

Neighborhood: Sunnyside

Unit: Two-bedroom Craftsman

Cost per night: $157 for full house

Why it's illegal: No permit—and it's operating against the will of the building's owner. Elisabeth Jacobs, a doctor in Seattle, found out her tenant had listed the house for use for up to seven people, and complained to Airbnb. The company declined to remove the listing. "We've gotten to the point where Airbnb is big enough they can do whatever they damn please," says Jacobs.

Renter response: The tenant, Aaron Liss, took down the listing before press deadlines.

(Joe Riedl) (Joe Riedl)

Neighborhood: Alberta

Units: Two in the same house. Two bedrooms on the main floor, two bedrooms in the basement.

Cost per night: $125 for the main floor, $75 for the basement

Why it's illegal: No permit, exceeds maximum rooms, and neighbors have complained. The city has issued a $707 fine, but neither owner Sean Robbins nor Airbnb has removed the listing.

Owner response: "The first I heard of the permit process was when I received a letter from the city," says Robbins. "Airbnb does not prompt you to fill out your permit app when you post an ad in Portland." He says he sent in his application Friday, after WW contacted him.

(Emily Joan Greene) (Emily Joan Greene)

Neighborhood: Lloyd District

Units: Three two-bedroom apartments

Cost per night: Up to $345 a night

Why it's illegal: It might be legal—but the context makes it shocking. Last year, renters paid less than $1,450 a month (or less than $50 a night) for the two-bedroom apartments. A new owner came in and hiked rents to $1,800 despite complaints from tenants about the building's conditions ("Power Goes Out. Rent Goes Up," WW, Dec. 1, 2015). After the rent hikes, three tenants left and owner Mike Nuss turned the units into Airbnbs.

Owner response: Nuss says the city's regulations for Airbnbs only apply in residential neighborhoods. (That's true, but the city has no record of him requesting the necessary permit.) "There's nothing wrong with fixing up the properties," he adds.

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