Complaints of STRs soar in wake of PA moratorium

Police enforce code on short-term rentals with limited staff

PORT ANGELES — Since the Port Angeles City Council approved a moratorium on new short-term rentals, the city has received dozens of complaints about rentals operating outside of code.

Since the moratorium was passed in June, the Port Angeles Police Department sent roughly 80 compliance letters for short-term rentals (STRs) in a matter of weeks, according to Deputy Chief Jason Viada.

Short-term rentals, or properties that are rented for less than 30 days, have become controversial in many communities with some arguing that the rentals reduce housing stock for local residents and increase rents. Others have defended the practice, saying STRs provide much-needed and desired flexible housing — particularly in locations popular with tourists — and generate tax revenue for municipalities.

In 2017, Port Angeles implemented code allowing STRs only in medium- and dense-residential and commercial zones and in June.

The city has hired consulting company GovOS to collect data on the impacts of STRs with the goal of drafting new regulations.

The city’s code enforcement procedures follow a complaint-based system, Viada said, and the city does not proactively seek out code violations. Enforcement is pursued only against properties that have received a complaint.

The police department took over code enforcement in 2020, Viada said. Before that, code enforcement was managed by the city’s Department of Community and Economic Development. Since taking over code compliance, the department has hired additional staff to manage the issue but Viada said prior to the moratorium, STRs were not something that was being emphasized.

The department currently has one full-time and one part-time employee pursuing code enforcement, Viada said, and enforcement of short-term rental regulations was added to their existing workload.

Code enforcement issues with an immediate public health impact such as RVs parked on the side of the road, abandoned vehicles and potentially hazardous trash piles in people’s yards take precedent, Viada said.

When the department does seek to enforce the code, a letter is sent to the property owner seeking compliance.

“Codes are designed to be followed more than designed to be enforced,” Viada said. “There are many people who didn’t know about the regulations. It comes as a surprise there was actually going to be some sort of enforcement.”

If the violation is not corrected, a second letter is sent and eventually daily fines might be assessed and a civil case pursued, Viada said. The worst penalty a person may face for code violations is fines, Viada said.

“I understand that to some people this is very high on the priority list,” Viada said. “And if you live in a neighborhood, and your neighbor has decided to make a junkyard on their property, that is definitely on your priority list.”

Viada said the department had trouble keeping up with code violation complaints before the STR moratorium.

“I know that there are people in the community who see this issue as critical. I would ask them for some understanding on the fact that it’s a half-time employee that’s working on this project,” Viada said. “All of this was put on his to-do list without taking anything off his to-do list.”

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Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at peter.segall@peninsuladailynews.com.

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