Spokane’s crackdown on unlicensed lodging is being put on hold.
The city announced Friday it’s imposing a 120-day moratorium on investigating complaints against those who rent out rooms and other short-term accommodations in Spokane, often using online services such as Airbnb.com and VRBO.com to market and book them. Exceptions include any egregious risks to health and safety brought to the city’s attention.
“We’ll continue to take complaints but we won’t be investigating them,” said city spokeswoman Julie Happy. “We’ll use the (moratorium) to see how we can work through the issues involved.”
The moratorium, which the city is calling a “stay,” means private rentals can resume during some of Spokane’s busiest tourist draws, including Bloomsday, university graduations and Hoopfest.
At issue is the growing popularity of online services that make it easier to market private, short-term accommodations to travelers looking for something other than hotels and motels.
Those private accommodations, however, often are located in residential neighborhoods where commercial activities such as short-term lodging are banned. It also raises concerns about unfair competition between unregulated private rentals and the licensed hospitality industry.
In Spokane, the city’s code enforcement department has received numerous complaints this year about unlicensed lodging establishments. All are believed to have been listed with online marketing sites. Thirteen were given cease-and-desist orders, said Happy, who noted they will be able to resume operations during the moratorium.
Among those ordered to shut down was Keith Kelley, who operates Vintage Rentals in Spokane and has been working with city officials to find a way to legitimize short-term rental operations in residential zones.
“We’re glad the city is looking into this,” said Kelley. “We’re small business owners, many of us running B&Bs, and have wanted for this to be examined. We pay federal, state and county taxes and want to pay city taxes but because there isn’t a (classification) in city code for what we do there’s no provision for us to do that.”
Currently, the city allows B&B lodging in residential areas only if they’re located in historic buildings or historic neighborhoods.
Cities nationwide are grappling with similar problems.
Happy said Spokane officials will be meeting with representatives of the established hospitality industry, the regional health district and others in trying to find a solution by Aug. 1. Public suggestions also will be sought.