It's revolutionizing the way people travel around the world, but right now, it's illegal in the city of Portland. We're talking about being able to rent out rooms in your home to tourists. Portland's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability is proposing to make homeowners pay up.
The biggest player in the Portland area is Airbnb, a website that connects people who want to rent out a room in their homes - and make a few bucks - with people who want a cheap place to stay. Other websites, including VRBO and Homeaway, work in a similar way.
Jane has been renting a room at her home since November. Normally, she would be happy to show folks around the place. But the Problem Solvers agreed not to show too much of it or her face or use her real name.
She knows this kind of rental is technically illegal, but she says, it's been a service to the community.
"We send (our guests) to these local restaurants and shops and bookstores and movie theaters and pubs, and those places are really benefiting from the extra tourism," says Jane.
Jane is hardly alone. Search "Portland" on Airbnb.com and you'll find 688 private rooms and more than a thousand entire places available to the budget-conscious traveler, nearly all operating illegally.
"We began in November," says Jane. "We charge $67 per night. And we've had pretty much 100-percent occupancy."
Enforcement is complaint-driven, meaning if your neighbor complains to the city, BPS will write a warning letter and then possibly impose fines.
If you want to legally rent up to five rooms in your home for less than 30 days, you need a conditional use permit for a bed-and-breakfast inn. It costs $4,130, plus $500 to $1,000 every year for other city fees.
Under the new proposal, homeowners renting one or two rooms would be subject to a $150 fee - maybe one time, maybe annually; it's not clear. They'd need to collect a 12.5 percent hotel tax and give that to the city. And they'd have to inform all their neighbors about what they're doing.
Steve Unger co-owns the Lion and The Rose B&B in Northeast Portland. Perhaps surprisingly, he's not opposed to room renters.
"I want people to have lots and lots of options when they come visit Portland," says Unger. "I just want them to be safe options."
Unger says the city's proposal doesn't go far enough. He'd like to see a fee of $250 to $500 to cover a mandatory fire inspection every year. He wants owners to have to stay in their houses when they have guests and use their new permit numbers in all online ads.
Unger insists the real problem is the 500-plus higher-priced vacation rentals - houses where the owners aren't there. Those properties compete directly with local hotels and B&Bs that pay far more in fees.
"Currently, the city has no plan to put in a licensing procedure for them and that's what needs to happen," insists Unger.
The proposal is not a done deal. The city wants to hear from you.
Bureau of Planning & Sustainability
1900 SW 4th Ave.
2nd Floor, Rm. 2500-B
Tuesday, February 11
If you're not able to make the meeting, you can comment here.
The proposal is likely to go through some changes. It won't go into effect until June at the earliest.