By Marcy Stamper
The Okanogan County Planning Department has scheduled a public hearing about a proposal that would change requirements for nightly rentals.
Under the proposed changes, all property owners wanting to rent a house or cabin to tourists for a short stay (under 30 days) will have to obtain an annual license and register as a business with the state for tax purposes.
The nightly rental also must be approved by Okanogan County Public Health for water and safety requirements, and by the Planning Department to be sure it complies with zoning regulations.
Nightly rentals have always had to obtain a permit from Okanogan County Public Health for water and safety. But when property owners got their annual renewal at the end of last year, they were also required to get a signature from the Planning or Building department certifying that the establishment was in a zone that allows nightly rentals.
The changes to the code are intended to bring nightly rentals into compliance with both Public Health and zoning regulations.
The proposed changes would also eliminate a requirement in the zoning code that affects a small number of nightly rentals in the Methow Valley that would have had to shut down by Jan. 1, 2021. There are about 16 nightly rentals in this situation, which are considered “legally pre-existing.”
The nightly rental situation has come under additional scrutiny because of the popularity of websites like Airbnb and VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) where people rent their homes directly to tourists. Some of the properties listed on those sites have the necessary county permits, but others do not.
Because rentals on the websites rarely include complete names or an address, the county has found it difficult to track down unlicensed properties and to enforce the zoning and health codes, said Okanogan County Planning Director Perry Huston.
Other rules governing nightly rentals include:
• A property owner can rent only one dwelling as a nightly rental, regardless of the number of properties owned.
• If a property owner is renting a second dwelling on a parcel, the owner must live in the main residence.
• A person who operates a bed and breakfast (which is different from a nightly rental in that the owner or a manager must be on the premises) cannot also rent a separate dwelling as a nightly rental.
The Okanogan County Planning Commission is conducting a public hearing about the proposed changes on Monday, Nov. 13, at 7 p.m. in the commissioners’ auditorium in Okanogan.
People can provide up to five minutes of testimony at the hearing, or can submit written input in advance to Roxanna King at email@example.com.
Documents related to the proposal are available on the Planning Department website at www.okanogancounty.org/planning.