Chelan County hot spot limits short-term rentals

After months of tensions between long-term residents and rental landlords near desirable tourist spots east of the Cascades, new regulations will soon limit the number of rentals listed on sites like Airbnb in Chelan County.

In a win for those who are currently renting vacation homes, however, most will be allowed to stay for the time being.

The county council of commissioners voted on Tuesday to approve new regulations for short-term rentals in unincorporated areas of the county, covering communities near Lake Chelan and Leavenworth. (Leavenworth proper already has its own rental limits.)

Short-term rentals listed on Airbnb, Vrbo and other sites have been controversial across the country for years, as some local residents argue they create traffic and noise problems, or rob the housing market of homes. required. Supporters and rental operators say they help attract visitors and are a key part of local economies, especially in areas rich in tourism like Chelan County.

As of 2019, Seattle has limited some short-term rentals. This year, faced with an influx of tourists, several cities in Colorado are considering new rental regulations. Clark County, Nevada is struggling with thousands of short-term rentals operating in violation of a ban.

Chelan County came close to adopting new boundaries last year, but instead opted for a task force to look into the matter.

Short-term rental owners say the new rules could prove onerous. The cap could hurt tourism in the area, said Don MacKenzie, who rents a cabin on Fish Lake and is secretary of the Short Term Rental Association of Chelan County, representing rental owners.

“For visitors to the county and the businesses that depend on those visitors, this is going to be a big drop in business,” he said.

Supporters of tighter rental limits hope the new rules will reduce what they describe as an influx of disruptive guests.

“It’s definitely better than what we have, which is neither control nor enforcement. We will have standards, ”said Kirvil Skinnarland, who lives near Leavenworth and is chairman of the board of the Residents United for Neighbors group, which has supported more regulation.

Under the new rules, the county will cap new short-term rentals that are not owner occupied at 6% of total housing units in most unincorporated areas of the county. Today, short-term rentals make up about 7% of the housing stock in these unincorporated areas, with higher concentrations in some areas, according to county estimates.

However, many existing rentals will be exempt.

Current rentals can continue if landlords rented before last August, paid taxes in recent years, and followed new rules, even if they exceed the 6% cap. If the owner sells, they can transfer the rental license to a new owner once every five years and the rental can continue to operate.

But if the property is resold, the rental loses its status and the 6% ceiling applies. This means that the number of rentals should not drop dramatically in the short term. In the coming years, however, the area may see fewer rentals as homes change hands.

Other new rules will limit the location of rentals; require all short-term rental owners to register; and set standards for issues like parking and noise. Larger rentals with more than 12 people will be subject to additional regulations.

The legislation passed states that the restrictions were “necessary to promote public health and safety by protecting residents’ enjoyment of their homes and neighborhoods year round.”

Over months of deliberation, supporters of the new regulations have argued that rental properties attract large groups of unruly visitors, emphasize local infrastructure, and prevent needed homes from selling or long-term rental.

“The key from now on is how well the ordinance is enforced,” said Skinnarland, whose group has supported stricter regulations. “If it’s not applied effectively, then we really haven’t gained anything.”

Short-term rental owners have argued that they help support the area’s economy and fill what would otherwise be empty vacation homes for much of the year.

Representatives of the group, Fairness In Grandfathering, a group of around 26 homeowners who were not doing business before August 2020 – and therefore would not have grandfathered rights – still express concerns about the new rules and are considering a lawsuit.

Under the new rules, rental owner Raminta Hanzelka expects to be able to continue renting the cottage she owns near the Chiwawa River, but the number of people allowed will drop from eight to six due to a new rule limiting rentals to two people per room. Hanzelka fears that the others will be the losers.

“I feel sadness and disappointment for the people who will be really negatively affected and the families too, who could previously rent these places and who will not be able to do so now,” she said.

Ahead of the vote, Commissioner Tiffany Gering said lawmakers had tried to strike a balance. “No one will be happy with this result,” said Gering.

County staff said they would start work on implementing the new law this week. Most of the new regulations will come into effect at the end of September.

About Michael B. Billingsley

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