When Pullman resident Tami Grady purchased a home last year, she thought it would be a good option to transform it into a short-term rental that provides lodging for travelers while generating extra retirement income for herself.
She spent more than $80,000 renovating the home – B&T Station – which was decorated in a railroad theme honoring the late George Pullman, inventor of the luxurious railroad sleeper car.
“It was a lot of time and effort making a place cool and great,” Grady said. “There’s never enough lodging, especially for busy weekends and there’s not a nice place to stay.”
B&T Station on Crithfield Court became popular among travelers, who had standing reservations for the home close to a year in advance. Then, last December, Grady claims the city of Pullman shut down the short-term rental because of one complaint.
“It’s really disheartening when you put so much time and effort into something to just be shut down and I do business here,” said Grady, who owns the Daily Grind Espresso in Pullman.
Grady said she was forced to cancel more than $35,000 in reservations on Airbnb.
“I called everybody and spent all day canceling reservations and they had nowhere else to go,” she said. “I felt really bad for them. I wish there was something that I could have done for them. It was not a fun day.”
The city of Pullman, which has more than 260 listed rentals on the Airbnb platform, has a provision allowing bed and breakfast establishments in certain residential zoning districts.
But, because Grady didn’t reside at the home, she was in violation of city code, said Pete Dickinson, planning director for the city of Pullman.
“When we received a complaint about her establishment, we found that she wasn’t in compliance with the bed and breakfast definition,” he said. “We told her we would take a look at the provisions of the zoning code, so we could allow for operation of a bed and breakfast establishment.”
Dickinson said when the city receives complaints, it is obligated to act on them, but he denied that the city sent her a notice of violation. Instead, he said they discussed with Grady that she needed to obtain what’s called a conditional use permit to operate the short-term rental and a “standard letter” was sent to begin that process.
Grady provided a copy of the violation from the city of Pullman to The Spokesman-Review dated Dec. 14, 2018.
“I know a ton of people in town that didn’t have to get a conditional use permit,” Grady said. “They just leave their homes and rent them out on weekends.”
Dickinson said after some discussion, the city agreed to work with Grady to allow operation of the short-term rental.
“Before we could relay that information to the owner, she had taken it upon herself to cancel reservations and put the house on the market for sale,” Dickinson said. “It’s a misnomer to say that we shut her down.”
Grady contends that’s not so and the city’s planning department told her she had to cancel all reservations as well as informed her it could be at least six months before the city examines regulations for short-term rentals.
“I sold the house because I couldn’t leave it vacant for a year. It was just mind-blowing to me how it happened and how it went down,” she said. “I bought stuff specifically for that house and incorporated the town of Pullman into it.”
Pullman doesn’t have regulations for short-term rentals. City officials might discuss the issue in the near future, Dickinson said, but the city still continues to operate on a complaint-driven basis.
“Whenever a party is conducting an activity in the city, I would request they seek permission or at least come to the city and ask if there are any applications or permissions that are necessary to conduct the business,” Dickinson said.
While Spokane County and Spokane Valley don’t regulate short-term rentals, the city of Spokane implemented regulations in 2015 allowing for two types of rental uses: properties only allowing lodging and another allowing commercial activity, such as parties or weddings.
Short-term rental owners are required to buy a permit from the city of Spokane, maintain a guest log book, comply with building and fire codes, pay lodging taxes as well as obtain a business license with the city and state. They are also required to notify neighbors next door and across the street of plans for a short-term rental.
Grady said other owners of short-term rental properties in Pullman are concerned they will be shut down.
“It sends a bad message to the community,” she said. “What’s to stop anyone from calling now? I think if the city is going to let people complain and shut them down, they should have a policy in place.”
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