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Licenses and limits: New short-term rental regulations take effect in Seattle

"Airbnb" is licensed by CC
Brian Johnson and Dane Kantner
"Airbnb" is licensed by CC

New short-term rental regulations are in effect in Seattle. Property owners, including those using online platforms such as Airbnb, now face limits on how many units they can rent and require an extra license to operate.

The Seattle City Council passed the regulations in 2017. During the debate, one concern was that property owners were choosing to rent units for short-term visits instead of for long-term housing, potentially contributing to housing affordability issues.

The new operators' licenses will allow the city to keep better track of rentals and enforce certain safety and building standards. It's an addition to the Seattle business license, which operators should already have. Online listings will be required to list license numbers.

The new regulations also limit the number of units people can rent, to an owner's primary residence plus one additional unit — a restriction that didn't previously exist. In other words, a property owner can rent a unit they live in and one more that they own. But there are exceptions, based on location and how long someone has been operating. 

City leaders initially passed an additional tax on short-term rentals along with the new regulations. But the tax was repealed after Washington lawmakers amended the statewide lodging tax to include online platforms in 2018.

"This really struck a really good balance to kind of deal with the issues that were unique to Seattle around affordable housing, but still allowed your mom-and-pop operators to continue to operate," said  Laura Spanjian, Airbnb public policy director.

License registration opens Jan. 2 and costs $75 per unit. Operators will have a few months to get the license.

A Seattle native and former KNKX intern, Simone Alicea spent four years as a producer and reporter at KNKX. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University and covered breaking news for the Chicago Sun-Times. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.