As Airbnb rentals rise, Portland eyes stricter rules

Ryan Blotnick and his fiancee, Keri Kimura, check for reservations of their Southwest Harbor home on the AirBnB mobile app. Micky Bedell | BDN

Ryan Blotnick and his fiancee, Keri Kimura, check for reservations of their Southwest Harbor home on the AirBnB mobile app. Micky Bedell | BDN

The city is proposing regulations that could curb Portlanders’ increasing use of services like Airbnb to temporarily rent out apartments and homes.

The draft regulations propose barring people from offering short-term rentals in properties other than their primary residence, establishing a six-guest limit and requiring that all rented properties comply with city housing and safety code. If the rules were approved by the City Council, violators could face hefty fines: $500 for a first offense and $10,000 for each after that.

The number of units in Portland up for rent on Airbnb has doubled in the past year to 439, according to a memo from the city’s planning department to the City Council’s Housing Committee, which was first reported by the Portland Press Herald. And with less than three percent vacancy in the city and sharply rising rents putting pressure on middle- and low-income Portlanders, the city planners suggest that regulating Airbnb and other short-term rentals could contribute to “stabilizing or improving trends in the local housing market.”

The spike in Airbnb rentals in Portland may be tied to the fact that they are often much more profitable for landlords than long-term leases. The city report notes some local property management companies offering to manage short-term rentals for clients and a growing number of Portland hosts with multiple, separate listings on Airbnb, suggesting the service is being built into a business model. The city estimates that 150 of the Portland Airbnb listings are being rented commercially.

But spaces rented on Airbnb, or other similar platforms like HomeAway and VRBO, are frequently not registered as rentals with the city and therefore not subject to inspection to ensure they comply with housing and safety codes. To address this and complaints the city has received about short-term rentals, the planners put forward a set of regulations similar to ones recently enacted in Boulder, Colorado, and Berkeley and San Francisco, California.

The regulations would require that short-term rentals be registered with the Housing Safety Office, which was set up in the wake of a 2014 fire that killed 6 people in a Noyes Street duplex. They would also block company-owned, residential properties from being rented out short term and cap rentals to three bedrooms with two guests per room. Hosts would also be required to sign an affidavit stating that their rental meets all relevant safety codes.

The draft regulations, which are being reviewed by the Housing Committee, make an exception for properties on Portland’s islands.