Short Term Rental Regulations: Details and Next Steps

Home » Short Term Rental Regulations: Details and Next Steps

Balance_housing_moneyLast week Mayor Murray and I announced proposed regulations for short term rentals. We have taken a balanced approach that recognizes the benefits platforms like Airbnb or VRBO create for Seattle residents, while also attempting to curb the growing commercialization of this industry. At a time where long-term housing is hard to come by, we want to encourage owners of multiple properties to make their properties available to long-term residents.

My Affordable Housing, Neighborhoods and Finance Committee will receive an introductory briefing about this proposal on Wednesday, June 15. We will dive into the details in July.

For those wondering what this means for you, here are a few highlights:

  • If you operate a short term rental out of your primary residence (including a connected in-law apartment or backyard cottage), you will be able operate all year long. This allows considerably more flexibility than the regulations in many other cities, which often include a hard cap on the total number of nights.
  • If you operate a short term rental in a property that is not your primary residence, you cannot operate year-round; you will be limited at 90 nights a year. This limitation will provide a financial incentive for property owners to move these units back to the long-term market, making Seattle housing available for Seattleites.
  • For those who operate past 90 nights in your primary residence, you will need to go online and secure a new regulatory license.
  • Overall, these are very modest regulations: we estimate about 80% of short term rental operators will see no new regulations at all under this proposal.
Here is a table that summarizes this structure (click to enlarge):


These proposed regulations focus narrowly on the commercial operators that take advantage of home-sharing platforms to exacerbate our housing crisis. By comparison, the City of Los Angeles recently announced a proposal that requires a special license for activity undertaken in the upper-left box in this table (by primary residents under 90 nights a year) and prohibits all activity in the other three boxes.

If you want to read more details about our approach, you can find them on the City Council’s website. For additional perspective, I wrote a blog post for The Urbanist describing this proposal.

Inevitably, no citywide policy can best meet the individual needs of every short term rental operator. The proposed regulations attempt to recognize both the benefits and challenges offered by short term rentals. They also attempt to focus on this issue through an equity-based lens: those looking for an affordable home in this city are more in need of supportive local government intervention than those offering their second (or third or fourth) homes to out-of-town visitors.

Finally, the proposed regulations uphold a perspective that existing residential units should be available for residents, allowing people to live in this beautiful city and enjoy what it has to offer.