Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts: News of Greater Falls Church

prenny-fcnpMany local governments in the region are working to address Short Term Rentals (STRs) that have become popular in the new “sharing economy.” Short term lodging essentially means renting space in one’s home, whether a bedroom or the entire house, for sleeping or lodging purposes, for a period of fewer than 30 consecutive days. Airbnb probably is the best known platform for advertising and arranging such rentals, but other online platforms (HomeAway, FlipKey, and Roomarama) exist. Local regulations vary, and Fairfax County currently is considering a variety of options to propose for consideration of a Zoning Ordinance Amendment to regulate STRs in the county.

The pros and cons of STRs have been discussed in many community meetings around the county. Some neighbors cite the potential negative impacts on property values and neighborhood character, as well as parking and safety related to more people in a local area. Others cite the positive effects of providing affordance accommodations for military families, travelling nurses, and job interview candidates. Some say STRs provide the opportunity to earn income to help pay the mortgage. Opinions range widely, from banning STRs altogether, to allowing them with little or no regulation.

Anecdotally, STRs are a boon to travelers who use them, and a horror story for some who abuse them. When a short term rental becomes a party house, with lots of people, cars, noise, and alcohol, neighbors rightly are incensed. Jurisdictions as varied as San Francisco and Blacksburg have adopted standards for STRs, and provide some guidance for enacting regulations that might work. Questions include whether the STR should be the operator’s primary residence; the type of dwelling unit (house? condo? apartment?); fire safety plans; how many rental nights per year should be allowed; should the operator be present; how many guests should be allowed; and whether “events” should be prohibited or allowed. Events include weddings, seminars, parties, etc.

Other issues to be addressed include whether a local permit and registration should be required, and if so, what is a reasonable fee. The payment of a Transient Occupancy Tax also is an issue to be addressed. All of these issues must be addressed in any ordinance amendment. Staff is continuing to research the issues, with a draft proposal scheduled for Board consideration after the first of the year. An on-line Short Term Rentals survey this summer yielded nearly 8000 responses. Most of the respondents lived in a single family detached home, and most indicated that they were unaware of any STRs operating in their neighborhood. Most also preferred a limit on the number of rental nights per year, especially if the operator is not present. Although 28 percent of respondents opposed STRs in any circumstance, about half supported limitation or regulation of STRs. Certainly, this is not an easy issue, which is why the Board of Supervisors has directed staff to continue research about STR regulations and registry in other jurisdictions. More to come…


 Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at mason@fairfaxcounty.gov.