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Pullman considers short-term rental rules amid Airbnb boom

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(The Center Square) – The City of Pullman is considering how to regulate short-term rentals, or STRs, like Airbnbs after its prior policy left the municipality without a way to enforce compliance.

While part of a larger effort to update the city code, some hope new regulations will help tackle an influx of Airbnb and VRBO listings. According to data tracking from AirDNA, Pullman has 208 short-term rental listings across the two platforms, with 137 currently active, an 8% increase in the last year.

On Wednesday, a six-page draft outlining the potential regulations reached the city’s Planning Commission. If enacted, it would require operators to have a business license and endorsement from the city, pay fees and verify their tax status, among other things. Additionally, it would limit occupancy to two people per bedroom and no more than ten persons per unit.

However, the regulations take a step back from the current city code. As Pete Dickinson, a former city planner, pointed out in 2019, STRs are already highly restricted. Pullman requires the owner to obtain a Conditional Use Permit to operate one, but the city has only granted a few since 2019, according to Pullman Radio.

During Wednesday’s workshop, Ariel Medeiros, an assistant planner for Pullman, told the commission that STRs would become legal in all zones under the drafted regulations, eliminating the CUP process currently required to meet compliance.

She said operators should qualify for the city’s endorsement if they meet the lengthy criteria. However, Pullman would revoke that endorsement if it finds that an operator violated the regulations three times in a single year.

In other states, such as Arizona, cities must verify violations, meaning they have to find that an STR operator violated state or local law through adjudication; so, unless proven guilty in court, those municipalities cannot enforce penalties.

However, unlike the CUP process, Pullman’s drafted regulations provide a section on enforcement. If enacted, any authorized city representative could issue a violation, providing grounds for the city to monitor and enforce compliance moving forward.

Pullman resident Carolyn Gordon spoke up at the meeting, explaining how she filed several records requests, which only uncovered a handful of complaints and police reports regarding STRs since 2019.

Those requests also included code violations, noise complaints and parking incidents, she said; which were cited as some of the reasons for needing the new regulations.

“For that period of 2019 to present, there were 1652 code violations, those that mentioned short-term rentals, zero,” she said. “There were 3,111 noise complaints, those that mention short-term rentals, zero. There were 2,540 parking problems, those that mentioned short-term rentals, zero.”

While Gordon supports some regulation, allowing the city to track STRs, the available data does not warrant this level of overstep, she said. Gordon continued that if STRs around town close shop, local businesses lose revenue in the long run, robbing the city of that tax revenue.

Medeiros attributed the lack of considerable data to the pandemic, as people were told not to travel for two of the years provided in Gordon’s requests. She also said most residents are probably unaware that STRs are illegal in Pullman without a CUP, which could account for the lack of STRs mentioned regarding the violations.

Helene Hopkins, a local property manager and Airbnb operator, said the rentals provide visitors with other options. She rents rooms for around $250 a night year-round; meanwhile, local hotel prices regularly skyrocket, sometimes as high as $750, as people flow into town for an event.

“All of those people who aren’t going to stay in my house,” Hopkins said, “they’re going to go to Moscow.”

She cautioned against placing too much pressure on operators, a move that could financially harm the city and its residents, who are gaining a foothold in the market.

Wednesday’s workshop was part of a series of meetings that will continue as Pullman officials update the city code. The Planning Commission will host another meeting on June 26 to provide additional updates to the drafted STR regulations.

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