I have been working with the Mason District Council (of Civic Associations) to set up a district-wide town hall focused on the AirBnB/short-term lodging rentals issue. The town hall has been set for Wednesday, Oct 5 from 7 – 9 p.m. at Sleepy Hollow Elementary School. I invite you to attend. I will attend, as will Senators Marsden and Saslaw.
Simply put, the issue is that AirBnB and other online short-term lodging/rental companies have an increasing presence in Virginia, but currently are unregulated at the state level. “Unregulated” means that neither AirBnB, the renter, nor the owner of the rental property pay any taxes to the state and few to the locality. It also means that there are no health and safety requirements or inspections, or any limits upon the number of vehicles or renters at the rented property at any given time, or any bond posted to protect damaged community or neighboring property. As with Uber, which did not fit into any of Virginia’s existing business models, we are grappling with proposed legislation and regulations to handle this situation.
We do not propose to prohibit online/traditional short-term lodging businesses from operating in Virginia, but have recognized the need to develop methods of maintaining a level business playing field, while protecting existing neighborhoods and respecting individual property-owner rights.
A May 2016 Virginia Municipal League survey reported that only 52 percent of localities require any type of registration or license for ‘rentals in residential dwellings for periods of less than 30 days.’ This lack of local regulation prompted the legislation that we passed, which would not go into effect unless re-enacted in the 2017 session. This bill contains detailed strictures governing this type of business, precludes local regulation and requires a working group to meet between sessions to develop potential legislation for 2017 or to recommend that the same bill be re-introduced.
The working group is functioning now under the auspices of the Housing Commission. Their meeting dates, agendas and materials are available on the Housing Commission website.
As you might expect, a primary disagreement on how to regulate and collect taxes from short-term lodging has emerged between the localities and the state.
Basically, the question is “who is in charge here?” The Virginia Municipal League strongly advocates defending local zoning authority and the ability of local government to regulate business. I don’t disagree; but I also know that businesses operating statewide prefer statewide uniformity of regulations and procedures, and if not that, then as much similarity between localities as can be developed or imposed. AirBnB has recommended that the state collect these taxes and remit appropriate amounts to each locality involved. Beyond this fundamental power dispute, existing lodging businesses such as Bed and Breakfasts, and hotels and motels are lobbying for equal regulation across the industry, regardless of length of stay. A further consideration must be made of the rights and responsibilities of HOA’s and Civic Associations which are already established in covenants and rules and regulations that homebuyers accept and agree to abide by when purchasing a home.
I am not pushing a particular solution to all this, but I am very sympathetic to homeowners whose stable neighborhoods are being disrupted by unregulated short-term residential rental businesses. Many constituents have told me, “I purposely did not buy a home next door to a hotel. I bought a home in a residential neighborhood, not a commercial zone, and that is how I want my neighborhood to remain.” I could and will say the same about the home-buying choice that my family made. Change is always difficult and not always good or fair.
We have an opportunity to shape this change and make it fair and good.
Of course, other states and cities across the nation are facing this same complex dilemma. There is no common approach and a number of lawsuits have already been filed. I hope that Virginia will take a proactive position and avoid statewide whack-a-mole, i.e. only dealing with specific pieces of the overall problem as each aspect arises.
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at [email protected]