If looking for a place to stay in Arlington this weekend, there are at least 108 rooms available on Airbnb. Airbnb is a growing peer-to-peer homesharing network, where homeowners can rent a spare bed to visiting strangers. According to William Burns, senior advisor for Airbnb’s mid-Atlantic pod, there are 740 active hosts in Arlington County. Starting on Dec. 31, those hosts will be able to legally post their houses as rentable.
Prospective Airbnb hosts will need to obtain a license from the county to operate. The license, which shows that the residence meets building codes, will be free for the next six months. However, members of the County Board said a fee for the license will likely be revisited over the next few months.
The regulations on homesharing were limited before they reached the County Board and only loosened once there. The County Board ultimately changed language in the legislation to make it easier for residents to rent their homes out while they are away. Airbnb hosts will need to occupy the residence for at least half the year and visitors will only be allowed to live there for 30 days or less.
Discussion of homesharing regulations took up the majority of the Dec. 10 meeting. Opinions in the public comment were more varied than just those in favor and those opposed. Some supported Airbnb in Arlington but believed the legislation needed more time to be carefully crafted. Others opposed Airbnb and homesharing, but said they felt the county was taking a much needed step towards regulation.
Nancy Iacomini, speaking for the Planning Commission, said the topic had generated the most public interest of any issue they dealt with in 2016. The Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve the regulations. Iacomini said that no one speaking at the Planning Commission meeting had any opposition to allowing short-term rentals.
Several of the 14 speakers who came forward said, despite its illegality, that they were Airbnb hosts. Ryan Michie, an Arlington Heights resident, said he utilized Airbnb when he moved to Northern Virginia in 2012. Michie said living in an Airbnb allowed him to find local employment and even meet his fiancee.
“Without services like Air BnB, I would not have been able to find employment and the love of my life,” said Michie.
But other residents expressed concerns that homesharing could pose a safety risk to other residents and put an undue burden on neighbors to monitor rented homes. Dusty Horwitt, a Columbia Pike resident, noted that Airbnb properties are often not listed publicly, which makes it difficult to determine if a neighbor’s home is being rented. Horwitt said he had found one listing that included pictures of communal laundry and amenities as features in the rental, and said it made him concerned for resident safety. Among those sharing concerns about the new regulations was County Board Member John Vihstadt. Vihstadt attempted to have the issue delayed until January to allow for time to craft regulations, but the motion found no support. The homesharing legalization and regulations were approved in a 4 -1 vote.