County homes rented through sites such as Airbnb may soon be subject to new zoning regulations. The Washington County Planning Commission approved adding a definition of "short-term lodging establishment" to county zoning regulations during its meeting Thursday.

Airbnb, and other vacation rental websites, allow property owners to rent living space short term to others through online transactions.

"Short-term lodging establishments," or homes rented through an online site, won't become officially part of zoning regulations until a vote by the Washington County Board of Supervisors, which is likely to occur at its Oct. 22 meeting.

As part of the definition, an online-rented home could have two people per bedroom, and regardless of the number of bedrooms in the home, no more than 10 people would be allowed to stay the night at a time. The home also could not have more vehicles on the property than it has rooms.

As the county board discusses new requirements of online-rented homes, a distinction could be made between homes that the owner also lives in and an owner unoccupied home. During the planning commission meeting, planning commission member Lyle Schjodt said he thought that a home the owner lived in could be classified similarly to a traditional bed and breakfast.

"If the owner is occupying it, and they give me a donut and coffee in the morning, that's a (bed and breakfast)," he said.

The county already has zoning regulations related to bed and breakfasts. A bed and breakfast is defined as a house, or portion thereof, where short-term lodging rooms and meals are provided, and which the operator of the bed and breakfast also lives on the premises.

The new definition to zoning regulations for a "short-term lodging establishment" would differ from a traditional bed and breakfast as it would likely apply more to homes which are rented through an online platform, such as Airbnb.

Should new regulations for such properties be passed, Washington County could be an early adopter of online-rental regulations as far as county entities go. Planning and Zoning Administrator Ryan Sullivan said he found several cities which had regulations surrounding Airbnbs, but only found one county, Flathead County in Montana, that defined online rentals in their zoning regulations. Flathead County is located near Glacier National Park.

"There are many counties who either they don't know about it, or they don't worry about it, or they haven't addressed it yet," he said.

Sullivan said that regulations surrounding online rentals likely help government entities recoup taxes from online rental platforms.

"I've found there's a lot of litigation involved between cities and the company (Airbnb), and a lot of it has to do with taxes," he said.

The Nebraska Legislature passed a bill earlier this year which prevents cities and villages, but not counties, from banning rental bookings through online platforms. The bill also allows cities and villages to collect taxes from those bookings.

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