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Portland City Council delays action to regulate Airbnb operations

Portland city commissioners agreed Wednesday to delay voting on new city regulations governing Airbnb and similar short-term rentals, as there are too many unresolved questions to move ahead.

Some 1,600 Portland residents list their properties for possible short-term rentals with Airbnb, an Internet-based system that connects prospective renters with hosts.

But right now, those Airbnb hosts, and those signed up with other short-term rental companies, are largely operating illegally in Portland. Technically, they’re supposed to register as bed and breakfasts, which requires a $4,130 fee and can take eight to 10 months.

None do so.

Only a couple dozen bed and breakfasts have registered with the city.

The Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission approved a new set of regulations in late-April that would enable those renting one or two rooms of their primary residence to pay $180 for a license and home inspection, and thus become legal in the city. The fee and inspection would be required every two years.

The new system also could boost city coffers, as the city could begin collecting lodging taxes from hosts.

But the 78 people signing up to testify Wednesday illustrated there are still many outstanding issues to resolve.

Some Airbnb hosts find having a city inspector in their home every two years is too intrusive, as well as the $180 fee.

Several testified that hosting via Airbnb helps them pay the mortgage and remain in their home.

However, Andre Baugh, chairman of the city Planning and Sustainability Commission, raised questions about the impact on housing affordability if many people are tempted to stop renting their homes to long-term tenants, because renting on a short-term basis is more lucrative. One woman testified that she gets $170 a night renting her home.

Molly Turner, who works for San Francisco-based Airbnb, asked the city to expand the proposed regulations to allow people in condos and apartments to be hosts, as those wouldn’t be allowed under the proposed ordinance.

There also are questions about people renting more than two bedrooms, and whether the city needs to start regulating vacation rentals as well.

It was clear from testimony that many current Airbnb hosts would continue to operate illegally under the ordinance.

Steven Unger, who owns the Lion and the Rose Victorian Bed and Breakfast in the Irvington neighborhood, suggested the city require that hosts be the primary resident for at least nine months, as San Francisco’s ordinance requires. The proposed Portland ordinance only requires the host to live in the house at least six months a year. Neighbors are concerned that means the owner won’t be on site to monitor Airbnb guests.

Several neighborhood association leaders pleaded with the City Council to delay action, and that wish was granted.

A City Council work session will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday, June 24. There also likely will be another public hearing so more residents may testify.

Steve Law can be reached at 503-546-5139 or stevelaw@portlandtribune.com.

Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/SteveLawTrib

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