Join Debi Hertert of the podcast HostingYourHome.com as she talks with Bob and Sue Low, the Portland citizens and now Airbnb Superhosts who prompted the City to change their ordinance prohibiting short term rentals.
A concept: “Age in Place”
1:40 Sue starts by telling about the remodel of their home in Lauralhurst and moving to their basement during the remodel. After living in it for 6 months they had some friends who knew about Airbnb and who had recommended they try it. They did, and were excited! It was the summer of 2012. They met some really nice people, but then their neighbor filed a complaint. Bob then said that in September of 2012 the City gave them a Cease and Desist order regarding their short term rental. At that point, they went about trying to get the City to change the ordinance.
6:30 They researched out the status quo and found about 1,500 listings for short term rentals on various platforms such as VRBO, Home Away, FlipKey, and Airbnb. They decided to let the City know the magnitude of the activity, indicating that the City should somehow deal with it. They got an appointment with Commissioner Dan Saltzman, put together a PowerPoint of the current status and showed the potential for revenue generation by the City. It would serve home owners who needed the income to “Age in Place”. When they finished, Saltzman said it had merit and encouraged the two to talk to other Commissioners. There had just been an election so they had to wait until the next calendar year. They then met independently with each commissioner and their policy person, and this took around a year. The commissioners really saw a benefit of doing this. They also met with City officials Paul Scarlett, Susan Anderson, Sandra Wood and others, and started going to the meetings the City was holding about the new comprehensive plan and testified for including short term rentals in the comprehensive plan. They asked other 10 people who were doing short term rentals to write to the City to tell them they were doing these rentals, why they needed this income, and wanted to be able to be licensed.
Bob and Sue discovered that Austin, Texas had formed policy around short term rentals and shared that information with the City.
12:30 At that time, they also started talking to Airbnb. They sent their action plan and PowerPoint to Airbnb, and Airbnb wanted to come to Portland to help streamline the short term rental regulations. Airbnb established a major office in Portland about that time, and Debi remembered going in spring of 2014 to City meetings, planning commission, City Commissioners. At some point it turned over to Airbnb working directly with the City
14:30: Sue said her neighbor had gotten some other neighbors to rally against them, so they went to the local neighborhood associations, SE Uplift, and the Laurelhurst neighborhood association, and there were a number of people who also spoke in favor. The Laurelhurst board sent a letter to the City opposing short term rentals, but without talking with the members. There were other meetings and the City sent someone to the meeting to see what the issues were.
16:30 A NEW ORDINANCE, INSPECTIONS, CURRENT STATUS – Sue talked about the safety inspection requirements brought up by the City. The City did approve short term rentals but wanted to require safety inspections.
Bob did a review of the public hearings including the Planning Commission meetings. It was an interesting journey. But within a year, they got the law changed. Debi thanked them for getting it all started.
Deb asked Bob about the current status. What happened after the law was passed? Bob replied that it’s pretty straightforward now. You need to pay an application fee of $175, need an inspection to demonstrate egress and the required interconnected smoke alarms. He said it’s pretty simple, but that he has heard that a lot of people have been concerned that the inspectors are finding other things and that has to be addressed.
Bob and Sue had to put an egress window in, modify the ceiling because they were an inch too low and they couldn’t get a variance. That cost $5,000 and $6,000 for the egress window. During the entire time they were lobbying for short term rentals, they couldn’t rent because they were told to stop. So that was about a year. When the inspector came, Bob met her at the door, she checked the window and smoke detectors and it only took about 20 minutes. Debi said a lot of people are not getting licensed because of their concern that some other unpermitted work might have been done in the past and don’t feel that the inspectors will stay focused. Bob brought up the possibility of the Fire Marshal doing these inspections.
During the meetings with the City, they told the City that the taxes paid by short term rentals could pay for staff to appropriately license short term rentals. Sue said they might go in again and meet with commissioners about the inspection process, might float concept of the Fire Marshal doing inspections.
25:10 Debi said she is personally grateful to Bob and Sue for doing this. She thinks Portland was the first city worldwide to have a permitting process for short term rentals, or at least the first one in which Airbnb collected transient occupancy tax on behalf of the City.
Sue said they were excited because after they got licensed they were asked to present at the first Airbnb Open conference in San Francisco. They were later contacted by people from other communities across the country.
Quaint Garden Cottage Apartment (in their beautiful Portland home) https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/543988
More information on their historic home can be found on the Oregon Encylopedia website https://oregonencyclopedia.org/ and search for “Brick House Beautiful”. Their home has also been in “Better Homes and Gardens” magazine and has twice been on the cover of “Old House Journal”
Oregon Coast property (near Cannon Beach): https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/885296