There is a growing body of research and case studies of communities that documents the impacts, both positive and negative, resulting from the growth of short-term rentals (STRs) in cities and counties in the United States and throughout the world. Companies such as Airbnb and VRBO, and owners of short-term rentals, emphasize the contributions that increased tourism and diversity of tourist accommodations play in supporting local economies, especially in areas where tourism is a significant contributor to the economy. But there are costs and negative impacts that must also be considered. These include negative effects on community cohesion and quality of life for residents, as well as impacts on housing accessibility and affordability.
The predecessor organization to the Residents Coalition, Residents United for Neighbors (RUN), was organized in response to the mushrooming number of absentee-owner short term rentals in the unincorporated areas of Chelan County. The first letter alerting the County Commissioners to the issue of absentee-owner STRs in Chelan County residential neighborhoods was sent by a resident of Leavenworth back in 1998. It took almost 15 years for the first ordinance regulating short term rentals to be adopted but it was only for the urban growth area (UGA) of Manson. In August of 2019, the County’s Community Development Department released the first draft of a countywide STR ordinance. Over the next two years, there were innumerable drafts of this ordinance, public hearing after public hearing, and the convening of a Task Force which gave STR owners and residents equal representation at the table. Finally in July 2021, the Board of County Commissioners adopted a final version of the STR ordinance.
Under this ordinance, most of the existing short term rentals were allowed to be grandfathered—this means that they were allowed to come into compliance with the provisions of the new ordinance and obtain a permit to become a legal nonconforming use if they meet certain conditions. As of August 2022, the County has issued about 720 permits but there are an estimated 1400 short term rentals in the unincorporated areas of Chelan County.
In order to be eligible for “grandfathering”, an STR owner must prove that the unit was in operation between July 28, 2019 and August 25th, 2020 and that the owner paid both sales and lodging taxes. STRs that were not in operation before August 25th 2020 or did not pay sales and lodging taxes are not eligible.
Short-term rentals have been divided into three Tiers:
- Tier 1 are STRs where the owner lives on site. Occupancy is limited to 8 persons or two people per bedroom and further limited by the capacity of the site’s septic system.
- Tier 2 are STRs where there is no owner living on the premises. Occupancy is limited to 12 persons or two people per bedroom and further limited by the capacity of the site’s septic system.
- Tier 3 are STRs where there may or may not be an owner living on the premises. Occupancy is limited to 16 persons or two people per bedroom and further limited by the capacity of the site’s septic system. New Tier 3 STRs must be located on sites with direct access to a functionally classified highway, are required to meet certain minimum lot sizes, and may require a Conditional Use Permit, depending on location.
The new ordinance contains a list of requirements for that all STRs must follow. In addition to the occupancy limits and requirements to comply with their septic permit limits these include:
- Offstreet parking is required. There must be one space for each bedroom and an additional space for an onsite manager.
- Noise must be controlled. The ordinance makes it clear that STRs must comply with the county’s noise ordinance and owners must abate complaints about their property within 60 minutes. Repeat violations can lead to revocation of the STR permit.
- There are requirements to ensure that guests of short term rentals do not trespass on neighbors’ properties.
- Each property owner must designate a Qualified Person who can be contacted by neighbors or the County to respond to complaints within 60 minutes. This requirement is effective immediately, but unfortunately, the means to communicate this to neighbors via a sign is not. Owners have up to one year to put up a sign with information on how to contact the Qualified Person.
- There is a requirement for a phone to be installed in the short term rental so guests can be contacted if there is a problem or complaint.
- There are specific requirements regarding fire safety including the requirement that outdoor flame devices and portable burning devices be able to be locked up during burn bans.
- Additional requirements include a property management plan, compliance with consumer safety regulations, provision of Good Neighbor Guidelines to renters, and a requirement for the owner to carry liability insurance and to pay both sales and lodging taxes.
Finally, there are caps on the number of Tier 2 and 3 short term rentals that may be allowed in each of the County’s zip codes and UGAs. This is calculated as a percentage of the available housing stock. With the exception of the Manson UGA(which is capped at 9%,) and the Peshastin UGA (which is capped at 0%), the rest of the zip codes and UGAs are limited to 6%. Further, the ordinance defines three subareas within the Leavenworth zip code that are also each capped at 6%. Although these caps may be exceeded due to grandfathered STRs, no new STRs are allowed if the caps are exceeded.
All STRs that are permitted and operating legally should have a sign in front with their STR number and a phone number to call if there are problems. To report a problem to the County, go to the Enforcement page at the County’s Community Development Department. Here is the link: County of Chelan, Washington
RC3’s current priorities with respect to short term rentals include advocating for strong enforcement of the code and for more transparency about the permits. The public currently does not have access to comprehensive information about the applications and permits issued for short term rentals.
For more information on the regulations and enforcement, please go to Chelan County Community Development’s website: County of Chelan, Washington
If you want to read the section of the County’s zoning code that regulates short term rentals, click here. Chapter 11.88 SUPPLEMENTARY PROVISIONS AND ACCESSORY USES (codepublishing.com)
If you are interested in the research and findings about the impacts, positive and negative, of short term rentals on communities, please download this study.