Portland's Deadline for Airbnb Safety Permits Passes Unheeded, But City Won't Issue Fines

Only 4.6 percent of Airbnb rentals in Portland list a permit number, independent analysis finds.

An independent analysis of Airbnb's Portland hosts reveals that of the 2,006 online rentals in the city, only 93—or 4.6 percent—show they have a city permit to operate legally.

The city of Portland set a Feb. 20 deadline for Airbnb and other sites to begin posting hosts' city permit numbers or face a $500 fine for each violation. The deadline has passed and the city is shrugging.

City Revenue Bureau director Thomas Lannom says as long as companies are making "a good faith effort" to make hosts follow the rules, they won't face a fine.

When will the deadline be a real deadline with actual consequences? Lannom won't say.

"What we're looking for is that they are working with us and trying to comply," Lannom says. "If they appear to be dragging their feet, that is when we can bring and will bring penalties into play."

The analysis for WW was provided by Murray Cox, who runs insideairbnb.com, an interactive tool that compiles data scraped from Airbnb's site, and was based on Portland's permit data as of Feb. 21—a day after the city's deadline.

Airbnb has met the city's deadline for displaying permit numbers—to an extent.

WW created a test listing on Airbnb and found that although hosts must acknowledge a text box referencing Portland rules—including the permitting requirement—the site still allows hosts to list a property without filling in the “Permit Number” field.

Lannom says he doesn't know how many other short-term rental companies have provided a field for hosts to list permit numbers.

The insideairbnb.com data scrape shows 10 hosts, or less than 1 percent in the city, say they’re awaiting city approval. One host wrote in their listing: “Pending since Dec 2014. We haven't heard from city yet though we paid the fee.” 

Michael Liefeld is in charge of inspecting short-term rentals for safety for the Bureau of Development Services. He says he counts the effort by some hosts to get permits as a victory.

“If somebody said ‘I’m working on it’—mission accomplished,” he says. “That means they’re aware of the permit requirements and they’ve indicated that they are working on complying.”

Portland has given Airbnb unprecedented legitimacy, becoming the first city in the nation where the company is collecting lodging taxes. But previous reports in WW show Portland is beset by scofflaws, including short-term rental hosts who aren't getting city safety inspections and advertise multiple units they aren't living in.

Lannon says the city is not yet compelling Airbnb and other companies to disclose the addresses of their hosts.

“We’ve not asked for that information, because that’s not where I want to start,” he says. “I would much rather honor the companies’ desire to keep their host information confidential. To the extent that we can’t gain compliance, and that we’re dealing with a company that’s intractable, then at that point we could request that information.”

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