Legalizing Short-Term Rentals in Fairfax County

Legalizing Short-Term Rentals in Fairfax County

New regulations will permit homeowners to rent out homes up to 60 days a year.

Possible listings through short-term rental sites, including McLean and Tysons.

Possible listings through short-term rental sites, including McLean and Tysons.

Providence District Supervisor Linda Q. Smyth experienced a short-term rental operating illegally in her neighborhood. “I have the distinction, perhaps dubious, of being the board member with an Airbnb situation a half block from my house,” said Smyth.

“So I’ve seen the operation of it, It has not been a happy situation, it’s been a disruption for the neighbors, and it’s been difficult,” she said.

Smyth was one of three supervisors to vote against the short-term lodging regulations that passed the board on Tuesday, July 31, to go into effect on Oct. 1.

“If we had required that the host be present during the short-term lodging contract period, I think I could have gone along with it, because the host is the neighbor and that’s the person the neighbors would know,” she said. “But because we are not doing that I really still have major reservations because of experience.”

“I cannot support it,” Smyth said.

Despite the estimated 1,500 short-term rentals operating in the county to date, the county has only received 80 complaints about short-term lodgings, according to county documents.

“I do believe that owner operators, where they are not present during the rental, where the home isn’t the owner’s residence, are really operating a business in our neighborhoods,” said Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity. “And it does change the residential character of our neighborhoods, and I’ve alway supported protecting those neighborhoods,” he said, during the board’s meeting Tuesday.

“But I am concerned, on the other side, that we lose tourism benefits, that this really is like Uber and Lyft, part of the new economy. It is something done across the country,” Herrity said.

Herrity, who represented the second vote against the the short-term lodging plan, asked the board on July 31 to take more time to study the “complexity of the issues.”

“I think there’s good reason that the General Assembly took two years to address it,” he said.

Braddock District Supervisor John C. Cook was the final vote against the plan.

“I share some of Supervisor Smyth’s overall concern with the concept, but I also recognize that we have to be responsive to a changing economy,” Cook said.

“To me, the way to address the impacts on the surrounding community are to enforce existing law,” he said. “We have a zoning ordinance and we have it for a reason.”

“Occupancy limits are designed to make sure our homes don’t overwhelm the area,” said Cook.

FOR MORE THAN A YEAR, county planning commissioners, planning staff and Board of Supervisors have been interacting with county residents about regulating rentals such as those advertised on Airbnb, VRBO and FlipKey.

Interest has been high.

More than 7,500 people took part in an online survey. Hundreds of people attended dozens of public meetings. More than 45 people signed up to speak at the Board of Supervisors public hearing on the topic on July 10, 2018, cumulatively speaking for hours.The public hearing before the Planning Commission in May lasted more than four hours.

“I am fortunate that the McLean Citizens Association, they represent 60,000 residents in my district, took this very seriously,” said Dranesville District Supervisor John W. Foust.

“And they recognize that this is going to be a balancing act, they identified the advantages, additional income for the homeowners, making homes more affordable, providing a cheaper alternative to hotels, and providing an opportunity to meet people from other states and countries,” said Foust.

“They warn that there are concerns that they wanted raised. And one was the impact on the character of the neighborhood, very legitimate, introduction of commercial uses in a residential area, parking and traffic on local streets, safety and security, noise and trash, impact on homeowner association and condo agreements, and enforceability,” he said.

Sully District Supervisor Kathy Smith, as chairman of Development Process Committee, spearheaded the board’s efforts to finalize regulations to be passed.

“We’ve been at this for a long time. The General Assembly took a couple of years to come up with the code allowing us to do this,” said Smith.

“In reflecting, we’re really here because people change how they do things, we’ve developed a sharing economy, we have shared rides, we have this with the housing,” said Smith. “And sometimes local government is a little bit behind the changes.”

SURVEY RESPONSES revealed that 82 percent of respondents thought short-term rentals should be allowed in single family homes; 74 percent answered that they should be allowed in townhouses; 76 percent answered they should be allowed in condominiums. Fully 40 percent of respondents said they had first-hand experience with short-term rentals.

“While it would be nice to wait, I don’t think waiting is going to yield us any new information that we don’t already have today,” said Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay.

“You’re going to have people who don’t understand it, you’re going to have people who love it and want no regulations, and you’re going to have people who don’t want these anywhere in the county,” he said.

The county will examine how the regulations are working after 18 months.

“I do think it is an issue that we need to set rules of engagement, put them in the ordinance, test them, see what’s happening, allow people who are doing these in a way that doesn’t impact the rest of the community, a legal means by which to do that,” said McKay.

NEW RULES go into effect Oct. 1, 2018, allowing homes to be rented out as short-term lodgings with restrictions.

“I think the enforcement issue is going to be a big deal,” said Foust. “I do remind people that this is currently illegal, and we’ve got thousands of people doing it. So we’re going to make it legal, let’s hope that they respect that it will now be legal and they live within the confines of the law.”

These rentals will generate an estimated $428,268 in new transient occupancy taxes a year based upon the estimated 1,500 active listings, according to the county. Of this amount, $249,823 would go to the county’s budget fund and the remaining amount would be used to support tourism and regional transportation as required by state law.

SHORT-TERM RENTALS will be allowed in single-family homes, townhouses, condos, mobile homes and apartments with the following requirements:

  • Owners or renters must be permanent residents of the property they offer for short-term lodging

  • Properties may be rented for no more than 60 days per calendar year.

  • Lodgers will be limited to six adults, all be associated with the same rental contract

  • Only one contract per night is allowed

  • Operators must identify an authorized agent, not including themselves, who will be available in to address problems that arise while a property is being rented.

  • There must be one designated parking space available for lodgers.

  • Postings must include the short-term lodging permit number

  • Postings must identify the location of the required parking space

  • Properties may not be rented for events or commercial purposes like parties, weddings or fundraisers.

  • Properties must be made available for inspection by county code enforcement inspectors upon request, and comply with state building safety rules

  • Two-year permit will cost $200

  • Operators must pay transient occupancy taxes

  • Homeowners associations and community associations can still prohibit short-term lodgings within their subdivision or development

MOUNT VERNON District Supervisor Daniel Storck identified short-term rentals as entrepreneurism.

“This is the new economy, this is entrepreneurism, this is exactly what it is. You’re always kind of skating near the edges of what’s legal or not legal, what the rules are or not the rules, because that’s part of what creates change in society,” said Storck.

“We’re here, and now we have to address it. As an entrepreneur I don’t want to shut it down but at the same time, I have a lot of concerns,” he said.

Chairman Sharon Bulova said the board’s decision “was not an easy one.”

“Short-term lodging, while people have been doing that sort of thing over the years, it hasn’t really had a name and hasn’t been something that’s been recognized in our zoning ordinance. But it’s becoming something that is popular and that people are doing,” Bulova said during the meeting. “Without any kind of regulation or oversight I feel that we could be interfering with the quiet enjoyment of people’s neighborhoods and homes.

“There were many factors to consider and various ways the county could go about regulating or restricting. Through today’s decision, the Board of Supervisors aimed to strike the right balance between allowing short-term rentals to operate in Fairfax County under certain circumstances, while protecting the character and quiet enjoyment of residential neighborhoods in Fairfax County,” she said.