The City of Port Angeles is deciding how to regulate short-term rentals that show up on Airbnb and Vrbo.
Port Angeles has a zoning rule that doesn’t allow short-term rentals in some areas. But it was unclear, and not enforced, according to short-term rental owners.
Then last year, more than 100 of those owners got cease and desist orders from the city, threatening fines of $500 a day.
Shireen Hutchison was among them.
“We didn’t realize we were illegal because we had gone to the city in 2016 and asked if there was any rules or regulations for short-term rentals in Port Angeles. And we were told, ‘Nope — none,'” she said.
Her family had come to rely on that income, especially after Hutchison’s husband became permanently disabled after being catapulted by a tree during a forestry accident.
“We had been operating [the short-term rental] and then to get this letter saying we needed to shut down,” Hutchison said. “It was surprising, devastating.”
Some people in the area blame short-term rentals for the local housing shortage.
“It’s so hard to get professionals to move here, because there are no [long-term] rentals,” said Darlene Schanfald, a resident of Sequim.
Schanfald said she’d like to live in Port Angeles, but cannot, for the same reasons.
“I’m hoping that they would ban short-term rentals,” she said in reference to the Port Townsend City Council.
Short-term rental owners say their homes represent only 2% to 3% of the housing stock, and can’t be blamed for the region’s failure to make way for enough new housing to be built.
Researchers have found that in the short run, Airbnbs can be blamed for 20% of home price increases, and 14% of rent increases, in neighborhoods where the platform suddenly began operating. That means if a home price increases by $100,000, Airbnb is statistically responsible for $20,000 of that.
But in the long run, the same researchers found Airbnbs led to the increased production of new homes, offsetting their impact on prices over time, since more supply helps stabilize prices. All the while, tourists staying in those homes spend money on local businesses.
Now, it’s up to Port Angeles’ city councilmembers, like LaTisha Suggs, to decide whether to crack down or ease up on short-term rentals.
At a meeting in June 2023, Suggs signaled her desire to find a middle ground.
“Ignorance of the law, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you had a policy in regards to short-term rentals” — it’s not an excuse,” she said. “But we could probably do better to make sure that people know what the law is when it comes to short-term rentals, also. So, it’s a two-way street.”
This week, Port Angeles city councilmembers will begin rewriting the regulations.
Short-term rental owners say city officials have recently promised them some leniency, and suggested that any new regulations probably won’t kick in until after the 2024 summer tourist season.