Commentary: Update on Short Term Rental Regulations

Commentary: Update on Short Term Rental Regulations

Fairfax County sent a survey to residents on Monday about Short-Term Rental (STRs) units in the county as it collects citizen information to adopt new regulations as Virginia has authorized them to do after July.

Last year, I wrote about the new “gig economy” and how many of us are using web-based companies like Uber and others to earn some extra income. I highlighted the specific challenge posed by web-based short-term rentals, like AirBnB, and that the General Assembly in 2016 passed a bill authorizing the Virginia Housing Commission to study short-term rentals to learn how to allow Virginians to use their homes to make extra money through housing platforms like AirBnB while establishing an efficient mechanism for the collection of taxes and protection and would work with stakeholders to determine the appropriate level of regulation necessary to address their concerns.

Fast forward to this year and the General Assembly, study in hand, after much negotiation and debate, passed SB1578, introduced by Sen. Norment and signed by Governor McAuliffe, a law that affirms that local governments like Fairfax County have the authority to address zoning and regulatory issues regarding short-term rentals. The bill also addressed the ABC laws and clarifies that short-term rentals should be licensed just as Bed and Breakfasts are when it comes to serving alcohol. The law goes into effect on July 1 and at that point the county can start the process to regulate short-term rentals.

Fairfax County staff believe that there are upward of 1,000 units offered as short-term rentals throughout the county, and that number is likely to grow with the proliferation of online platforms such as AirBnB, FlipKey, Roomarama and HomeAway. These rental units range in size from a single room within a home to an entire home with multiple bedrooms. This is a trend growing throughout the nation within the new “sharing economy.” We live in a digital world and one of the many challenges we face is how we manage short-term rentals, which the internet has made much easier to do, by balancing the desire of some to utilize their property to bring in rental income with the many serious concerns of residential communities mostly around safety and security, property values and privacy issues. Few people want the home next door to become a mini-hotel or Bed and Breakfast.

Now that the General Assembly has affirmed local authority to adopt ordinances pertaining to short-term rentals and how they fit within zoning regulations, it is important for concerned citizens to weigh in on whether or not short-term rentals should be allowed and/or how they should be regulated. Issues that could be addressed include whether there is a maximum number of overnight lodgers, parking considerations, how signage should be displayed, noise control and even whether new linens and towels should be provided to each new guest.

Starting with the recent survey, the county has an Ordinance Timeline whereby the public will be be able to participate with input and recommendations. Expect this process to take a few months with the Board of Supervisors voting on a new ordinance sometime around the end of the year.