City Council refers short-term rentals proposal to Planning, Housing Advisory commissions

Ethan Epstein/File

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Berkeley City Council voted unanimously to refer a proposal to legalize short-term rentals, such as those listed on Airbnb, to two city commissions at its Tuesday meeting.

The proposal addresses concerns that allowing short-term residential rentals would make it harder for long-term tenants to find housing in an already tight market. Although some of its elements were disputed by council members and meeting attendees, the proposal will be referred to the city’s Planning and Housing Advisory commissions for review.

The proposal, introduced by Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmember Lori Droste, would legalize rentals not exceeding 14 consecutive days and would tax hosts in the same way as hotels. Under the proposed regulations, the property must be occupied by the owner or tenant for at least nine months of the year and can be rented out no more than 90 days if the host is not present.

Public comment was cut short and the item delayed at the City Council’s June 9 meeting, at which community member David Skolnick said that renting out his property through Airbnb had helped him and his wife get out of debt.

But “we don’t want to create incentives for landlords to turn whole buildings into hotels, or to take housing off the market,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguin.

Tenants whose leases prohibit subletting could still face eviction if they rent out their apartments on Airbnb, even if the proposal becomes law. According to Katherine Harr, a Rent Stabilization Board commissioner, many tenants are already being evicted for violating their leases by subletting their apartments.

The proposed regulations would require renters to obtain business licenses and post them online with rental notices. According to Arreguin, this provision would aid enforcement efforts by allowing city staff to monitor which rentals are compliant.

But Councilmember Darryl Moore said he hopes to remove the online license requirement during further revisions of the bill.

“We don’t require that of landlords,” Moore said. “And I’m not sure why we would require it of short-term rentals.”

The proposed tax on the rented apartments would contribute to a special enforcement fee to help the city investigate violators of the law, Arreguin said.

Council members struck a provision that required the host of a short-term rental to notify neighbors across the street before renting out units, but they kept the provision requiring the notification of next-door neighbors.

At Tuesday’s meeting, council members also discussed the biennial budget and adopted the first reading of an ordinance to encourage the addition of small housing units to existing residential properties.

City officials will prepare a draft ordinance to present to City Council after the two city commissions weigh in on the short-term rental regulations proposal, and the draft ordinance will return to the council for final approval, Moore said.

Staff writer Sujin Shin contributed to this report.

Contact Sujin Shin and Mira Chaplin at [email protected].