Complimentary Wine in Your Airbnb Is... Illegal?

Pretty much. But a local short-term rental operator is pushing to change that.

By Stefan Milne February 25, 2020 Published in the March 2020 issue of Seattle Met

Providing a bottle of wine as a gift to Airbnb guests could, legally speaking, get hosts screwed.

Recently, some friends and I rented an Airbnb in Moscow, Idaho. In it we found a patently eerie painting of a little girl (we named her Mila), a decently murder-y basement, and, by way of welcome, a bottle of red on the counter. Had we been just over the border, though, the wine would’ve been the legal aberration.

In Washington, no permit has existed to let short-term rental operators—such as those on Airbnb and Vrbo—offer a complimentary Champagne or cabernet. Now, a new bill aims to change that. Introduced this legislative session by Washington State House representative Sharon Tomiko Santos, House Bill 2192 allows operators to provide a bottle gratis (and to buy from distributors). But why, in a session that also includes legislation on family and medical leave (2191) and identity theft (2193) and assault weapons (2241), would anyone bother?

Santos says this is one of only two bills in her 22 years in office prompted by single constituents—this time, Andy Morris. He and his wife, Lynne, own Seattle Vacation Home, which runs 45 short-term rentals around the city. For a few years, as a welcome amenity, they’d been buying 14 Hands Hot to Trot wine by the pallet from Costco. Their insurance covered them for one bottle per rental. Then another operator mentioned that they might want to look into the legality of that. When Andy reached out to the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, he was told the company needed a permit. Yet, even though there are 17 sections in the law for liquor permits, his business fit none.

That stems from a larger issue: Because technology has made the model radically more accessible, short-term rentals have exploded. A third-party site tallied 11,000 active Seattle Airbnb and HomeAway rentals in last year’s third quarter, up from 6,000 in the same quarter in 2016. Officials are scrambling to keep up, quelling illegal operators and regulating legal ones.

Unlike many hosts, Andy doesn’t view his business as a side-hustle. He has become a bit of an advocate for short-term rentals, petitioning to have them taxed like hotels and suing the City of Seattle over restrictions on how many one person can run. He reached out to Santos about his latest cause. In the grand scheme, Andy admits, the change isn’t especially controversial, or consequential. He was not lying awake fearing prohibition-style crackdowns, G-men confiscating all that Hot to Trot. He was just curious about the lawful gap and wanted to be on the up-and-up. Santos says similar legislation is not so rare. Another bill recently allowed salons to offer patrons a tipple.

Might I recommend next: a bill standardizing where these people keep the damn corkscrew.

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