Short Term Rental Regulation Unanimously Passed By City Council

After months of community discussion, a new ordinance regulating Short-Term Rental units (STR) was passed unanimously at the February 14th City Council meeting, by a vote of seven to zero. During the past year, the Bainbridge Chamber helped bring together COBI, the innkeepers (including hotel, inn, and STR owners), other business owners in the hospitality sector, and community members to find this  data-based solution for all.

The stated purpose of the new chapter (5.38) in the City’s code is, “To identify the number of short-term rental units in the city, to ensure that the owners of such short-term rentals pay city taxes and fees, and to establish common sense quality of life protections for residents and short-term rental owners.”

The Chamber is happy to see City staff and council take a course of action that begins with comprehensive data collection to test assumptions and to welcome input from across the community.

The Details

As approved, Ordinance 2024-02 will go into effect on September 30, 2024 and will create a new section of city code that requires all Bainbridge STRs to:

  • Obtain a certificate from the City for each individual unit operated on Bainbridge
  • Define each unit in terms of its location, intended availability, and size, occupancy and parking specifications
  • Limit overnight occupancy to no more than a cumulative total per short-term rental unit of two persons per room plus one additional person per unit (excluding bathrooms, storage rooms, hallways, or other areas not normally associated with overnight occupancy)
  • Provide the name, address, and phone number of the unit’s emergency contact to available 24/7 in case of an issue
  • Be licensed and pay all applicable taxes  and fees for each unit, including the same Lodging Taxes as hotels and inns
  • Remain fully compliant with all Bainbridge parking, trash, and noise regulations, even if special events are held at a STR unit
  • Comply with COBI’s Food Service Ware and Waste Reduction regulations
  • Comply with COBI’s Nondiscrimination rules
  • Pay an application fee each year, one that “shall be no greater than is necessary to defray the city’s costs of processing the application”

In addition, residents and owners of properties within 300 feet of any location for which a Short-Term Rental certificate has been applied for will be informed in writing by the City, unless the STR is being operated at the owner’s primary residence.

Once a unit is approved, the certificate number must be included in all advertisements and listings for each unit, and a sign specifying the “local contact name and phone number of the owner or agent responsible for the short-term rental unit, the number of bedrooms, the maximum number of occupants permitted to stay in the unit, and the maximum number of vehicles allowed” shall be posted by the owner or agent in a readily visible location on the interior and the exterior of the short-term rental unit.

The ordinance also establishes a system for community members to make evidence-based complaints about any STR, which will then be verified by City Staff, and trigger discussion and/or disciplinary action up to and including suspension or revocation of the unit’s City Certificate. In each case, those potential actions can be appealed to the city council, or ultimately to the Kitsap County superior court.

Bainbridge Short-Term Rentals Background

Using 2023 data from AirDNA (a service that monitors STR nationally):

  • The number of STR available on Bainbridge Island varies from around 150-300 units, depending on the time of year
  • Of the island’s 11,000 households, this represents 1-2% of the housing stock on Bainbridge (or at least part of those properties)
  • Many units are operated on the same property as an islander’s primary residence (such as rooms in a house, basement apartments, units above a garage etc) and form a vital way for residents to be able to afford to stay in their home
  • 33% of Bainbridge STR owners are 60 years of age or older, 52% are women, and the median amount earned is $18,000
  • STR units are ever more attractive to Bainbridge visitors because traditional hotel and inn options on the island are limited. This has been exacerbated by prior city council decisions to block development of new hotels in Winslow and expansion of Pleasant Beach Village in 2021-2022
  • The island’s hotel and inn operators work hand-in-hand with STR owners to try and satisfy overwhelming demand (especially in the summer) to come visit Beautiful Bainbridge Island™…

The Process & Reaction

At least 4 iterations of the ordinance have been made over this past year, and the Chamber played a key role in getting so many stakeholder groups to the negotiating table for this process and facilitating wide-ranging discussions to find middle ground. Bearing in mind that some versions of the proposed code would have effectively banned weekend visitors to the island from using STRs, we are happy to have found a workable solution for all.

“Many hours of cooperative community conversation have got this short-term rental ordinance to a place where it can both benefit our local businesses while also balancing the needs of island residents to enjoy their homes and neighborhoods. In the big picture, we hope this process helps create a new model for meaningful policy debates, one where the City, the business community and other local stakeholders can work together to resolve complex policy questions in ways that better serve the public interest.”
Chamber President/CEO Stefan Goldby

Together we were able to transform this proposal into an ordinance which strikes a good balance between the economic benefits and the potential impacts of short term rentals on our island. Through the certification program, we and the City will gain a much better understanding of STRs on Bainbridge, and we will see more STR-generated Lodging Tax proceeds come back to the island for the benefit of our community.
Bainbridge Innkeepers (representative forum of local STR owners and hotel/inn operators)

“Short Term Rentals are a vital part of Bainbridge’s visitor economy, one which offers a friendly way to see the island through a local lens, and one which perfectly complements the traditional lodging options also available.”
Christine Mueller – Executive Director, Visit Bainbridge Island

More Information:

Ordinance 2024-02 (City of Bainbridge Island)

New Short Term Rental Ordinance on Bainbridge Island (COBI YouTube Channel)

Short Term Rental Regulation Considered For Bainbridge (Chamber News – May 2023)