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Airbnb fails to meet rental standards

Guest column: Catch me if you can

By Cynthia Malkowski

Published on June 7, 2017 12:33PM

Cynthia Malkowski of the Arch Cape Inn & Retreat.

R.J. Marx/Cannon Beach Gazette

Cynthia Malkowski of the Arch Cape Inn & Retreat.

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No longer a mom-and-pop, starving-student operation, the Airbnb Community is a $30 billion global company.

At the time of this writing, according to a March 2017 study conducted by CBRE Hotels’ America Research, 40 percent of Airbnb’s revenue is driven by multi-unit owner/investors. These are people who buy and rent out entire dwellings and then also rent out two or more properties ­— people for whom this is clearly a business and not simply a way to make ends meet or to supplement a fixed income.

Over the last years, Seaside, Astoria, and Cannon Beach have experienced the effects of this unregulated dynamic dramatically eroding the livability and small business environment in our towns.

The proliferation of Airbnb’s unlicensed, unregulated “illegal hotel” operations extracts profits from our communities.

This proliferation broadsides local law-abiding owner/operators, negatively impacts neighborhoods, zoning ordinances, regulatory compliance and tax revenues.

Airbnb inventory consumes residences that otherwise could be available as affordable housing for local families.

This consumption also perpetuates “urban creep,” forcing unnecessary development.

Consequently, Airbnb impacts our natural environment, such as the a 40-unit Wahanna complex that was approved proximate to a wetland area based on the need for more affordable housing.

If Airbnb complied with existing ordinances and if Seaside had monitored its activity, illegal Airbnb housing might have been available for families to rent and the wetlands would not have been an issue.

Did this factor into the equation when making the decision to approve the new complex?

Failing to agree to operate in a transparent way, Airbnb also appears not to comply with short-term rental regulations, licensing, tax, zoning laws or any other public health requirements.

When Seaside (or Clatsop County) tacitly turns a blind eye, this creates an unfair playing field that disadvantages those of us who live here and who create jobs by participating in our community.

We are the ones who have to make it through winter.

Airbnb, in an attempt to maintain secrecy and unfair advantage, approached Seaside with its own contract called a voluntary collection agreement, which it wants the city to sign.

This is like a stranger approaching you to ask if you want some candy.

The terms imply that taxation and licensing will somehow be addressed, yet the city will not have access to the information it needs in order to verify overnight stays and the number of Airbnb properties.

The contract would allow Airbnb to be audited once within a 48-month period, prevent transparency by failing to disclose the addresses for neighbors to know who is next door, side-step licensing requirements and be exempt from a tax look-back. Wow.

If Seaside inks this contract, we should all be able to have those same terms.

A March 2017 report entitled “Airbnb Agreements with Local and State Tax Agencies” demonstrates the following:

• Unjustified favoritism for Airbnb and its lodging operators,

• Improperly ceding tax authority to Airbnb,

• Granting huge benefits to third-parties who have not signed the agreements,

• Unfair treatment of other taxpayers, businesses and citizens,

• Violating standards of transparency and democratic governance,

• Undermining compliance with tax and regulatory laws

• Spreading undesirable precedents through laws patterned after the agreements.

Our municipalities must insist on the same ground rules that govern the rest of us, which include voluntary disclosure agreements, not VCAs, that require entities to pay taxes, hold proper licensing, and open books for audits.

Our municipal leaders must enforce compliance as a condition for Airbnb doing business within the city limits of our town.

In addition, according to Seaside’s two-year strategic goals plan, our leaders must move quickly to define the parameters and enforceability of VRD/STR permits. How much is too much?

In the meantime, until this goal is clearly accomplished, instead of approving VRDs by the handful every month as has been the trend, I request the following in order to protect our community:

a directive to all entities such as Airbnb, Vacasa, Flipkey, VRBO, Homeaway, to cease business within the city of Seaside until such time that they demonstrate that they abide by the same rules as our other compliant businesses.

a moratorium on any more VRD/STR licensing, until the city is able and willing to define its goals and the means of enforcing these goals

an overture on the part of the city to assure advocates of local businesses, affordable housing and land conservancy that our concerns regarding the threat by illegally operating entities will be substantively addressed.

Cynthia Malkowski is a Seaside resident.


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