Astorians who want to rent extra bedrooms in their homes to tourists may have to get a permit next year.
City staff say a permit would help them better monitor Airbnb-type rentals and enforce city rules, as well as provide an easier process for people looking to offer legal homestay lodging. The City Council discussed a draft permit at a work session Wednesday.
A new permit could be in front of the council for further discussion and adoption before the end of the year.
Like many cities, Astoria has struggled to address a growing number of vacation rentals. Leaders fear rentals contribute to rising housing costs, change the character of neighborhoods and take away long-term housing options for residents.
Astoria already struggles to enforce its rules for homestay lodging and has no real idea how many of these rentals are active. Finance Director Susan Brooks does not know how much in lodging tax dollars the city is owed and not collecting from people who either don’t know they have to pay taxes to the city or are ignoring the rule.
A permit process would introduce a system of fees, inspections, regular two-year renewals and the ability for staff to revoke a permit if someone is out of compliance. What property owners advertise on platforms like Airbnb or VRBO can also be used as evidence. If people get a permit to rent only one bedroom, for example, but then advertise their entire house on Airbnb, staff can use the information to enforce city code.
Existing legal rentals may be grandfathered into the permit process as long as they conform with several basic criteria, said Rosemary Johnson, a former city planner and a consultant on the permit project.
Currently, city rules say people who sign up to offer homestay lodging can only rent out one to two bedrooms in their homes and must live on-site. Renting out entire houses or apartments is not allowed. People are expected to pay lodging taxes — the same taxes hotels must pay — and have a business license. No permit is issued.
City councilors differ in their opinions when it comes to homestay lodging.
Councilor Cindy Price would like to put a cap on the number allowed in the city, while Councilor Tom Brownson said people should have a choice in how they use their homes.
Given the housing crunch in Astoria, Councilor Zetty Nemlowill would prefer not to allow any short-term rentals at all, while Councilor Bruce Jones, a candidate for mayor, argued that if finding people who want to rent long term to residents is the goal, the city should focus on providing incentives.
Mayor Arline LaMear maintains that having the option to rent out a bedroom and make some extra money is one big way older homeowners can afford to remain in their homes.
But they all agreed the proposed permit strikes a good compromise.
“This moves us forward in a positive direction,” Nemlowill said.