Battle over ‘bed and breakfast’ brewing in Spokane



Posted on March 8, 2014 at 12:05 PM

Updated Monday, Mar 10 at 10:28 AM

SPOKANE, Wash. -- There is a fight brewing in Spokane between the legitimate owners of local bed and breakfasts and people who rent out a part of their homes to short-stay guests.  Those who do the latter may be breaking city laws without knowing it.

In a recent trend, many travelers around the world are choosing people's homes for a short stay rather than a traditional hotel or a quaint bed and breakfast.

Esther Jacobson says renting out the small cottage in the back of her home doesn’t make her a lot of money.  It's something she loves to do for people who can't afford an upscale hotel, but want a nice place to stay.

“As far as breaking any rules, regulations, or codes, I wasn't aware of them and I did research before opening my doors,” said Jacobson.

Esther calls the 900 square ft. home ‘Lofty Hill Loft’ and she advertises on the website ‘Airbnb,’ a site that lets homeowners rent out rooms, condos and spaces like Jacobson’s to anyone traveling to their city.

“I haven't had any trouble at all finding people and as far as hurting other people or businesses, I can't imagine that could actually be correct,” Jacobson said.

No one could disagree with that more than Mary Moltke, owner of Roberts Bed & Breakfast in Browne’s Addition.  She said websites like Airbnb are killing her business, and places like the Lofty Hill Loft are breaking the law.

“When I did my original business plan, I wasn't anticipating 110-plus illegal competition,” said Moltke.

In the City of Spokane, a person must a have a license to operate a facility where guests stay less than 30 days.  Those rules apply to single-family and two-family residential homes.  The only exceptions in a residential area are bed and breakfasts and historic homes classified under the adaptive reuse ordinance.

Operators of bed and breakfasts have to abide by strict guidelines for safety and food handling.

Esther Jacobson does not, but she doesn't claim to run a bed in breakfast.

“The information I received was I doing everything I had to do,” said Jacobson. 

Many people have blamed Airbnb for using people like Esther to get around city codes, by blurring the lines between what's allowed and what is a violation.

The company issued the following statement to KREM 2 News:

“We send hosts 1099 forms to help ensure they pay income tax, and we are committed to working with local officials around the world to set forth clear laws that allow regular people to rent out their own homes, while giving back to the city that makes it possible.”

But those words offer little comfort to Mark Moltke who said her business is disappearing along with her web presence.

 “I would embrace the competition as long as it's on a level playing field,” said Moltke, “if they have to go through what I've had to go through and be as legal as I am.

It was not known how many tax dollars potentially illegal short-stay homes cost the city.

So far in Spokane, there have been a dozen complaints about people renting out their homes illegally.