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News / Clark County News

Vancouver sets public hearing on short-term rentals, most of which are technically illegal in city

By William Seekamp, Columbian staff writer
Published: December 14, 2023, 6:32pm

The Vancouver City Council is hosting a public hearing on proposed regulations for short-term rentals, like Airbnb and VRBO, within Vancouver. The council meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. Monday.

The code changes would fix perhaps the largest problem with short-term rentals in Vancouver: most are technically illegal.

This is because short-term rentals — defined by the city as units rented by individuals for fewer than 30 days — are banned in Vancouver’s residential zones unless they are bed-and-breakfasts. City officials have not enforced the law, however.

In addition to allowing short-term rentals in all residential and commercial zones, the proposed regulation creates a short-term rental permit with a one-time $250 fee, requires owners to notify neighbors of their permit application, and caps the total number of short-term rentals at 870. The city would be allowed to inspect any authorized short-term rentals, although it would not be required.

Public Meeting

There are approximately 425 short-term rentals in Vancouver — about 0.5 percent of Vancouver’s housing stock.

Vancouver resident Tony Pryor, a sales manager for an auto dealership, said he is generally supportive of the code changes.

Pryor has invested in real estate since 2000, but it wasn’t until last year that he tried Airbnb. He owns four homes: his primary residence, two long-term rentals and a cabin near Lake Merwin.

Pryor had been losing $200 to $300 a month on his two rental homes for a few years and decided to list his primary house on Airbnb to supplement his mortgage payments. He netted $740 in his first two weekend bookings.

But he didn’t realize it could be a full-time job until someone with water damage in their house rented Pryor’s primary residence for 45 days, netting him $9,500.

“I realized that if I was successful with this, I might be able to quit my job,” Pryor said.

After Pryor’s other two tenants left last spring, he began listing his other two homes on Airbnb too.

Where are they?

About 75 percent of the short-term rentals are advertised through Airbnb, like Pryor’s.

Of the approximately 425 short-term rental units in Vancouver, 85 percent are single-family houses and 87 percent of short-term rentals rent an entire place, rather than a room or a portion of an occupied home, according to the city officials.

Short-term rentals are found throughout Vancouver, with a higher concentration in downtown and westside neighborhoods.

Nearly 800 community members took a survey about short-term rentals in early 2022 on the city’s BeHeard Vancouver website.

The responses were varied: 55 percent of respondents supported short-term rentals with regulations, 24 percent wanted to see short-term rentals allowed with no regulations and 19 percent said they wanted them banned in all circumstances.

When asked what type of short-term rentals should be allowed, 70 percent favored renting single-family homes and accessory dwelling units, 55 percent favored townhomes and condos, 40 percent favored mobile or manufactured homes, 36 percent favored apartments and 19 percent said rentals should not be allowed.

Owners

Short-term rentals offer customers options beyond hotels, said Scott Dickinson, a lifelong Vancouver resident who owns 10 Airbnb units, two of which are in Vancouver.

Rooms at the Hilton Vancouver Washington often run upward of $170 a night before taxes and fees. Same with the AC Hotel by Marriott and Hotel Indigo. The Heathman Lodge is typically cheaper at $135. Renting an entire home on Airbnb in Vancouver tends to start around $118 for a night, before taxes and fees.

Dickinson and Pryor said they put significant time, money and energy into furnishing, decorating and making their short-term rentals attractive to renters.

“We’re working hard for those five-star reviews,” Dickinson said.

Pryor works to have good relationships with his neighbors.

“I’ve owned these homes for 20 years and so I know all my neighbors in all three of the houses,” Pryor said. “They all have my phone number. If there’s a problem, I address it right away. No one wants a complaint. So that part of notifying your neighbors I thought is a great idea.”

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Dickinson and Pryor wish the cap of 870 short-term rentals was a fluctuating percent of total housing stock as opposed to a hard cap.

City officials chose a hard cap because it is more straightforward than continually monitoring the total number of housing units, updating the number of allowable permits and managing a waitlist. The city will revisit the cap in 12 months. If the rate of new short-term rentals continues at its current pace, the city won’t hit the cap before 2026.

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