Juneau Assembly to consider registration program for short-term rentals

Homes in downtown Juneau, photographed on June 6, 2023. (Katie Anastas/KTOO)

Juneau residents who run short-term rentals may soon have to register their businesses with the city.

It would be a first step toward regulating short-term rentals, like those listed on AirBnB or VRBO.

Deputy City Manager Robert Barr said a registration program would help the city collect sales tax and track how many units an owner or property manager is operating.

“That enables us to have a more comprehensive understanding of short-term rental activity in Juneau,” Barr said in an interview.

A year ago, 170 short-term rental businesses had registered with the city’s sales tax office. But data analysis this spring found that Juneau had nearly 600 active and intermittently active short-term rentals. 

The city’s short-term rental registration system would assign a unique number to each unit and require owners to include that number in online listings. They’d face a $25 fee each time they list their short-term rentals online without proper registration.

Short-term rental operators are legally required to pay sales tax and hotel bed tax. Barr said assigning a unique number to each unit could help the city track down which operators are paying and which aren’t — and make them more aware that they have to pay sales tax at all.

“Part of the reason we’d move forward with this registration ordinance is to get a better understanding of what our compliance rate is,” he said.

Communities around the state are taking even stronger measures to curb the increase in short-term rentals, which can leave long-term renters with fewer, more expensive options.

Sitka requires short-term rental owners to live on the property for half of the year. Wasilla issues just 75 permits per year, and one property owner can have up to three permits. 

Vacation destinations around the country have enacted similar laws. Last week, AirBnB sued New York City over its new short-term rental registration requirements.

If approved, Juneau’s registration program won’t include those kinds of restrictions, at least for now. But Assembly members discussed the possibility at a committee meeting Monday night.

Assembly member Alicia Hughes-Skandijs said she’d be interested in exploring limits to the number of rentals one person could run, prioritizing those who rent space in their primary residences and collecting permit fees that could go to the city’s affordable housing fund.

Wade Bryson urged fellow Assembly members to be cautious.

“I agree that we’re going down the correct path. We need to register short-term rentals, we need to make sure they’re not literally displacing our residents,” he said. “We still have to keep in mind that we’re now trying to figure out what to tell people they can do with property that they own. That’s always a very slippery slope.”

Last month, Anchorage Democratic Rep. Andrew Gray introduced a bill requiring short-term rental owners to register with the state. Owners would be limited to registering just one short-term rental. Assembly member Carole Triem said she would oppose the bill if it came up again in the next legislative session.

“We should get to make our own rules,” she said.

Barr said the registration program likely won’t yield useful data until it’s been running for a year or more. But he said it’s a good first step in understanding the growing short-term rental market in Juneau.

“Regulation becomes more painful for more people the longer you wait to do it,” he told the committee.

The Assembly will vote on whether to create a short-term rental registration program at its June 12 meeting. If approved, it would take effect in July.

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