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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane region’s short-term rental regulations uneven

By Kip Hill and Chad Sokol The Spokesman-Review

Like many cities nationwide, Spokane had a fitful start permitting short-term rentals.

In early 2014, the city began issuing cease-and-desist letters to property owners advertising overnight stays online, saying local laws did not allow room-sharing services outside of regulations for bed and breakfasts, which were only allowed to operate in historic properties.

Short-term rental owners faced fines of hundreds of dollars per day for reported violations of city code, but the city changed course in March 2014, establishing a moratorium for investigations of potential code violations.

In May 2015, the council passed regulations permitting two types of short-term rental uses: one for properties only allowing lodging, and the other with some permitted commercial activity. Those interested in running a short-term rental are required to buy a permit from the city, maintain a site plan, turn over their guest books to city staff for inspection and comply with building and fire codes.

The ordinance passed in 2015 called for a review of the city’s policy a year later. City Councilwoman Amber Waldref said Tuesday she wasn’t aware that a year-end review was conducted for the ordinance, but also said city residents hadn’t come to her with specific concerns about the laws.

Proof that a short-term rental operator is paying applicable state and local lodging taxes is required to renew a permit, as well as maintaining a business license with the city and state, said Donna deBit, a planner at the city overseeing the short-term rental program.

In Spokane Valley, meanwhile, city officials have been reluctant to add restrictions to the growing short-term rental industry.

“I haven’t, to my recollection, even heard anyone talking about it,” said Mayor Rod Higgins. “Our attitude here in the Valley is to just let folks do as they please.”

Higgins said there has been public discussion about potential restrictions on Uber, the ride-hailing smartphone app, which relies on a “sharing economy” similar to Airbnb’s and has drawn the ire of at least one local taxi service. But the City Council didn’t want to regulate Uber either, Higgins said.

Toni Hansen, executive director of the Spokane Hotel Motel Association, said local hospitality businesses aren’t pursuing “bold action” at the local level, and instead are pressuring the Legislature to act, perhaps by levying taxes on short-term rentals.

“We’re a self-taxing industry so we just want a level playing field,” Hansen said.

Earlier this year Idaho leaders approved a law that forbids cities or counties in Idaho from banning short-term vacation rentals, which are home rentals for 30 days or less. But it does allow local governments to regulate them with regard to health, safety and welfare; requires zoning ordinances to recognize them as a residential use; and also requires collection of state sales and lodging taxes.

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