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How one Airbnb operator got a special carve-out in new short-term rental law

The Seattle Times investigates “how the sausage is made”


Through a long and stumbling process in late 2017, Seattle finally passed rules regulating and taxing short-term rentals like those listed on Airbnb or VRBO.

For the most part, under the new rules, most short-term rental operators will be able to operate a maximum of two short-term rentals: a primary residence plus one extra. Most operators outside of the downtown core have a small number of units grandfathered in. One Capitol Hill operator, Eric Friedland, will have 39—an staggering exemption that the Seattle Times’s Daniel Beekman digs into in a recent report.

The City Council, most notably Tim Burgess had been trying to pass legislation governing short-term rentals for years. Burgess eventually became interim mayor as he worked on the regulatory framework, which was tied up by a legal challenge by Friedland. The challenge was set to take about three months.

Before sending the legislation to City Council for review, Burgess agreed to a deal: Friedland would drop the challenge, as long as a version of the legislation passed committee that wouldn’t affect his operations.

“During my 10 years at City Hall,” Burgess commented to the Times on the deal, “there was a lot that happened where the phrase, ‘It’s not pretty to watch how the sausage is made,’ was really true.”

Burgess categorizes the deal, brought to him by the City Attorney’s office, as a means to an end: “I don’t think it really altered the substance of what we were getting ready to pass and it certainly opened the door for us to pass it and keep moving.”

Other short-term rental operators are crying foul, though.

“This is affecting me,” William McClelland, who operates eight units in the Central District, told the Times. “I’m supposed to close one of my units.” McClelland argued that if existing operators are going to be grandfathered in, “they should limit everyone equally.”

Read the full investigation here. The new law takes effect in 2019.