New Group Asserts Short-Term Rentals in County Residential Zones Are Illegal

Submitted by Kirvil Skinnarland

Chelan County has seen a rapid growth in the number of shortterm rentals (rentals of less than 30 days) in residential neighborhoods for the last five years. A new group calling itself “Residents United for Neighbors in Chelan County” (RUN) has been organized to advocate for the interests of long-term residents of the County—residents who are being negatively affected especially by houses rented to large groups where there is no owner living onsite. There are over 1,300 short term rentals (STRs) in unincorporated Chelan County, the majority of which (868) are in the 98826—Leavenworth zip code.  

Residents United for Neighbors released a legal memorandum today from the group’s attorney, David Bricklin (Bricklin and Newman LLP). He concludes that except for Manson, “Short-term rentals are currently not allowed in Chelan County’s residential zones.” The County’s zoning code is structured so that unless a use is expressly authorized, it is prohibited. Because short term rentals are not specifically authorized in residential districts, they are prohibited. (The County does allow bed and breakfast lodging in residential zones when it is the owner’s principal residence.) 

Residents United for Neighbors also asked Mr. Bricklin whether a County ban on STRs would constitute an unlawful taking of property without compensation. The answer is no. The County has the authority to ban short term rentals in residential zones, including banning those already in existence. Citing a November 2019 Washington Supreme Court Case, Yim v. City of Seattle, the legal memorandum states that since property can still be used for traditional residential uses, “the County has no exposure to a takings claim.” 

Residents United for Neighbors is not seeking to eliminate all short term rentals in Chelan County. “We understand areas such as Leavenworth and Lake Wenatchee are tourist destinations, and short terms rentals are part of the lodging mix for visitors,” says Barbara Rossing. However, “absentee-owner short term rentals are commercial tourist facilities, similar to hotels. They are more appropriate in commercial and tourist zones.” RUN suggests that such absentee-owner whole house short term rentals not be allowed in residential neighborhoods at all unless they are reduced in number and meet stringent code requirements including a limit on guests. “870 short term rentals in the 98826 zip code is too many,” says Rossing. Such a large number worsens our housing affordability crisis and negatively impacts the cohesion of our neighborhoods. 

A draft code to regulate short term rentals in Chelan County is currently being considered by the Planning Commission. A public hearing is scheduled for May 27th

For more information, contact: Barbara Rossing 509 548-7278 or Bruce Williams 509 888-1935


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