Seattle City Council considers restrictions on short-term rentals via sites like Airbnb, VRBO

SEATTLE -- At her north Seattle townhouse, Trishann Couvillion lives downstairs and rents the upstairs. Through the website Airbnb, she listed her two bedrooms for visitors looking for a place to stay.

“It’s been a really great source of income for me that I really needed to stay afloat,” Couvillion said Wednesday.

It’s something she first started doing nearly seven years ago. With her twitter account, SeattleLuxeLord, she promotes her spare bedrooms as a place people can rent out for a couple of days and even weeks.

"I would say almost every guest I had in the last three years almost everyone was staying somewhere between one and three months," said Couvillion.

Seattle is now considering new restrictions on short-term rentals through sites like Airbnb and VRBO. The rules target property owners renting out multiple homes to tourists instead of tenants.

“There are apartment buildings in Seattle where whole floors have been converted,” said Seattle City Council member Tim Burgess.

He said there is a concern that the short-term rentals reduce the housing supply for people in Seattle. The proposal does not allow property owners to rent out places more than 90 nights per year if it is not their primary residence. The new rule wouldn’t impact those who rent out rooms in their primary residence.

Burgess said nearly 80 percent of existing short-term rentals in Seattle will see no new regulations. It is meant to curtail the growing year-round commercial operations using Airbnb and VRBO

“How can we reasonably regulate that to protect our long-term rental housing while we also allow individuals to take advantage of this economic opportunity?" Burgess asked.

In a statement, the Washington Lodging Association/Seattle Hotel Association said:

“As we’ve seen across the U.S. and here in Seattle, the negative consequences of short-term rental companies like Airbnb cannot be ignored. We are seeing a rise in the number of commercial operators – individuals or entities who rent units full time or operate multiple units, essentially running illegal hotels, without any of the regulations in place around safety and security to protect guests or communities or abiding by the proper taxation and zoning regulations.”

When reached for comment, VRBO also released a statement:

“HomeAway believes provisions in the current policy direction, such as the 90 cumulative annual rental limit, will onerously harm responsible homeowners and small business. Additionally, it’s important to keep in mind that short-term rentals represent perhaps a thousand homes out of the more than 300,000 total homes, condos and apartments in Seattle -- that’s less than 1% of Seattle's overall housing stock.”

Airbnb said the proposal was a great first step to creating “sensible rules for home sharing.” However, Airbnb does have some concerns over privacy.

The City Council will not make a final decision until July.