Short-term rentals in the emerging “shared economy” took a step closer to lawful reality in Spokane on Monday night, as the City Council passed an emergency resolution asking the state to relax a law that could squelch such deals.
Councilman Mike Allen, who sponsored the resolution, said Spokane has become a trailblazer when it comes to short-term rentals that are offered on sites like Airbnb.com.
“Everyone else is hands-off on it, but we really need to have a policy in place,” he said.
State law currently says that an owner-occupied home that will be rented out for less than 30 days is required to have a fire sprinkler system. In Allen’s resolution, the council asked the Washington State Building Code Council to waive the sprinkler requirement for homeowners who want to rent out one or two rooms for less than a month.
“This is the canary in the coal mine,” Allen said about the sprinkler requirement. “If this can’t be fixed at the state level, then every Airbnb in the state must be shut down.”
City officials are trying to balance the needs of an industry that emerged largely online while protecting the residential character of the city’s neighborhoods.
As short-term rentals began popping up in Spokane earlier this year, the city sent out cease-and-desist orders to homeowners offering such arrangements, with the threat of $265-a-day fines if they continued their business. Short-term rentals continue to operate in the city, but if a neighbor complains, a city code enforcement officer would have to shut it down under state law.
In a presentation to the council, Allen’s assistant, Rae-Lynn Barden, and Tara Zeigler, a research intern at the city, said they struggled to find information on how other cities have dealt with the Airbnb phenomenon. They said no other city in the state was aware of the fire sprinkler requirement that effectively made the short-term rentals illegal.
Council President Ben Stuckart called Allen’s resolution “important.”
“I really hope this is successful,” Stuckart said before the council’s unanimous approval.
Allen expects other changes regarding short-term rentals to come to the council during the next three months.
“But this one seems like it’s crushing what was a very entrepreneurial spirit,” he said.
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