Clallam County commissioners discuss rules for short-term rentals; public hearing planned

The panel has agreed to set a public hearing for a draft ordinance regulating vacation rentals that the planning commission recommended for approval.

PORT ANGELES — Unincorporated Clallam County’s growing and unfettered inventory of short-term vacation rentals is on the verge of getting regulated.

Clallam County commissioners agreed Monday to set a public hearing for a draft ordinance regulating vacation rentals that the planning commission recommended for approval July 20.

The date of the hearing hasn’t been set. Commissioner Mike Chapman said Tuesday that he expects the hearing to be in late August or early September.

Short-term rentals also an issue in neighboring Port Townsend, where the city Planning Commission voted 6-0 July 13 to recommend the prohibition of short-term rentals of under 29 days in which owners do not live on-site.

The new Clallam County regulations are driven by residents’ complaints and the growth of Airbnb.

The San Francisco-based company founded in 2008 connects vacationers directly with rentals and has more than 2 million listings worldwide.

“It was past time to pay attention to it,” Mary Ellen Winborn, county Department of Community Development director, said Tuesday. “People complain all the time.”

Vacation rentals of under a month in residences where the owners are not present are not regulated in the Clallam County comprehensive plan. That includes no rules on how many people can rent the places.

Under the proposed ordinance, the maximum number of visitors would be determined by the capacity of the septic system, and one space of on-site parking would be provided for every bedroom in the vacation rental.

The county would conduct safety inspections of the accommodations prior to being rented, and owners would have to meet local and state regulations for business licenses and lodging taxes.

The need for new regulations “was driven more about the complaints, and the more we looked into it, we realized it was because of the need, just because of the number,” Winborn said.

“We have over 400 Airbnbs in the area.

“We know Airbnb is there, and people are calling and saying, ‘What do I have to do to be an Airbnb.’

“It was past time to pay attention to it.”

She recalled one woman who became a default landlord for a neighboring short-term rental after the renters had trouble with the septic system.

“She had to reset the septic system alarm all the time.”

Winborn said most of the complaints have been generated from waterfront parcels in Sequim, followed by the Port Angeles area.

Senior Planner Donella Clark said the regulation will “level the playing field a little bit more” with bed and breakfasts and other lodging establishments that abide by land-use and other regulations.

Winborn said the new regulation also will make it easier for county Code Enforcement Officer Barb McFall to address neighborhood concerns.

The potential for neighborhood conflict is addressed by the ordinance.

According to its statement of purpose, the ordinance is an effort at “community investment,” the lack of which can create community conflict when scenic destinations become popular.

It “will provide clear guidelines for owners to operate and be accountable to their neighbors, and tenants to know that they are safe and can enjoy their stay,” according to the statement.

Under their present freedom, owners of unregulated, short-term rentals “have no obligations,” Commissioner Bill Peach said at Monday’s meeting.

Winborn said Airbnb has criteria for its rental agreements and there are some state laws regarding transient accommodations.

“We don’t have a whole lot to help us out,” she said.

Sequim-area Commissioner Mark Ozias said Tuesday that vacation rentals have increased exponentially over the last few years.

‘Exploded’

“It is a business that has obviously really exploded and taken off,” he said.

“We are finding that other counties and municipalities around the the country are finding there are concerns.

“Neighbors have concerns about how property is being used, and potential guests want to have some assurance that the place they are staying at is safe.”

Ozias and Chapman said they both support the ordinance.

Peach was not available for comment at his office Tuesday afternoon.

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