Port Townsend City Council passes short-term rental ordinance

PORT TOWNSEND — The Port Townsend City Council has passed an ordinance on short-term rentals that now requires guest rooms to be accessed through a main entrance, property owners to be available when a room is being rented and does not allow guestrooms to have full kitchens.

The ordinance also lifts a moratorium on applications for tourist homes and bed-and-breakfasts that the council implemented in March.

This ordinance on short-term rentals, specifically bed-and-breakfast and tourist homes, has been debated by the council for almost a year due to concerns that short term rentals for tourists were taking away rentals that could be used as affordable housing options for Port Townsend residents.

Monday’s meeting was the second reading of the ordinance, which included three amendments passed by the council last week, according to city planning director Lance Bailey.

The amendments added that guest rooms in tourist homes must be accessed through a common entrance, that all rental business licenses must also be posted in any online advertisements and that rentals units in tourist homes and bed and breakfasts cannot have a separate kitchen. However, the ordinance does say that small appliances like mini-fridges and microwaves are permissible.

The council passed the ordinance Monday with five votes in favor. Council member Robert Gray voted against and council member Amy Howard was not present.

Gray took issue with the amendment that required a common entrance, citing it as a possible security risk.

However, Bailey specified that the ordinance does allow for guest rooms to have their own entrance, but they must also have a door that connects them to the main residence.

The council did amend the ordinance again Monday, changing the language from guest rooms having a “common door” to that guest rooms must be accessed “through the main residence.”

The amendment was passed as a way to deter people from using accessory dwelling units as short term rentals.

Rental units that are currently operational will be grandfathered in and will not need to comply with certain standards such as the common entrance since it would require significant changes to the structure of the building, according to Steve Gross, city attorney.

They will have to comply with business licensing rules, which require trash and recycling, fire extinguishers and posting their business license with their advertising.

Gray also questioned the language in the ordinance that required owners to be “on site” when they have a renter.

“That wasn’t the intent that the owner needs to be there every minute or every hour of the day,” Bailey said. “They just have to be available, that’s the intent. We don’t want them out of town when guests are available.”

Bailey said the planning commission took three meetings to settle on the language “owner on site.” Bailey said he understood the concern about that language but thought it was the best way to convey the intent of the requirement.

The requirement for an owner to be on site was also a way to prevent people from renting out entire residences online through sites like Airbnb.

“It’s about the protection of our neighborhoods and maintaining the comfort and quietness of our neighborhoods for the people that live there, not just the tourists,” said council member Michelle Sandoval.

The council did respond to a written comment that was concerned about the ordinance’s limit on two adults per guestroom. The concern was that children couldn’t stay in tourist homes. However, the measure simply puts a limit on two adults — there is no limit on the number of children that can stay in a guest room.

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 55052, or at cmcfarland@peninsuladailynews.com.