City Council Works to Clarify Laws on Airbnb Rentals

by | Aug 14, 2016 | Government

By Susan Larson.

When Catherine Dodd decided to make her home’s finished basement, with a private entrance, bedroom, bathroom and living area available to guests through Airbnb, she followed the guidelines on the company’s website. That included talking with her neighbors and contacting the city. The city responded by saying Dodd needed a special use permit to operate a bed and breakfast.

The city then sent a letter to some eight to 10 other residents operating through Airbnb, telling them they also needed to obtain special use permits. Opponents said Airbnb rentals are not bed and breakfasts.

Jerry Stokes believes the 24-page packet he received from the city is overkill. He and his wife Ellen had rentals for 12 nights over the last year, making $1,164, on which they paid state and federal income tax. He said the letter they received “requires we each go through a very complicated process including a pre-application meeting, application, technical review, provide a certified survey, narrative justification, public notifications, notarized affidavits, planning commission hearing and city council hearing.” The estimated time frame for this process is 4 -6 months.

“This is a solution in search of a problem,” he told City Council during the August 9, 2016, public hearing on Dodd’s special use permit. He wants the city to “limit the intrusion and onerousness of the process.”

“We understand the need for the city to monitor and manage non-conforming uses to protect the integrity, peace and tranquility of our neighborhoods,” the Stokes’ wrote in a letter to City Council. “We don’t object to the $300 application fee and we do not object to the business license and bed tax. But we do strongly object to the heavy handed bureaucratically excessive process to which we are being subjected.”

Councilor Kerry Devine, At-Large, agreed. “The public hearing tonight is under the existing rules and regulations,” she said. “I do hesitate to overregulate at this point, because they [Airbnb’s] have been operating well in our city, filling a need and bringing people to the city. Airbnb does serve a different need than a hotel.”

The Virginia General Assembly passed legislation in 2016 to clarify laws on residential rentals posted on websites such as Airbnb. “The new legislation sets uniform standards for short term rentals and clarifies what kinds of rules local governments can and can’t pass,” reported reason.com. “For example, cities and counties can’t ban Airbnb-style rentals altogether or require them to follow the same rules as hotels. However, local authorities can enforce rules like noise and parking restrictions.” But the legislation is delayed until 2017, while the state continues to study the issue.

“I agree with Kerry,” said Vice Mayor Billy Withers, Ward Two. “They are a big addition to the city.”

Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw said the issue needs “a bigger discussion.” “It’s a good topic of a work session.”

Withers asked that Dodd’s special use permit include two additional conditions: that it be confined to four persons per night, and that the special use permit include a sunset clause of three years. It passed 6 – 0. Councilor Brad Ellis, Ward One, was not at the meeting.

“Airbnb is a positive alternative for some travelers,” Dodd said. “It’s about experiencing a place and not just staying at a place.”

She added that this is not her job. “This is my home. I have a day job, but this is something I’d like to try. I want it to be a place where travelers could experience all the wonderful things that are Fredericksburg.”

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