Homeowners across the city will soon be able to rent out a room in their their homes through services such as Airbnb and VRBO following City Council’s approval at its meeting Thursday.
The new regulations allow owners of single-family homes across the city to rent out one bedroom for a maximum of 30 days per renter and for a maximum of 104 nights per year, under the condition that the homeowner continues to occupy the home while the renter is there.
Whole-home rentals will remain illegal, and neighborhoods with Homeowners Associations still have the discretion to ban short-term rentals.
The board passed the measure in a 4-1 vote, with council member Ted Maslin casting the lone dissenting vote. Instead, Maslin said he would’ve supported an alternate set of short-term rental regulations recommended to council by the Planning Commission, which would’ve restricted short-term rentals to the city’s entrance corridors.
“I thought their rationale was solid; if we’re going to introduce short-term rentals in the community, let’s start at the entrance corridors. Nobody living there will be surprised since those areas allow for bed and breakfasts,” Maslin said. “I felt that somebody on council needs to be speaking for the neighborhoods.”
Carolyn Murphy, director of the city’s Planning Department, has said 58 homes along these entrance corridors would qualify under Planning Commission’s recommended policy.
Although short-term rentals are now legal in the city, that doesn’t mean homeowners can list their homes on Airbnb just yet.
Those looking to rent rooms in their homes as short-term rentals will first need a business license issued by the Williamsburg Commissioner of Revenue, along with approval from the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals, which carries a $300 application fee. Homeowners also will have to pay personal property taxes on every item in the room being rented.
Council members stressed the need for a fair set of short-term rental regulations, fearing potential backlash from the General Assembly. As Mayor Paul Freiling explained, the state legislature has stepped in to require the cities of Lexington and Virginia Beach to allow short-term rentals after the two localities enacted regulations that were too restrictive.
“Over-restriction or no use is not governing short-term rentals, it’s just trying to exclude them, and that’s not what the General Assembly wants to see,” he said.
But the new regulations still leave some unanswered questions.
The regulations passed by City Council require the homeowner stay on premises while renting their room through short-term rental services, but council members and Planning Department Director Carolyn Murphy acknowledged the owner-occupancy requirement will be difficult to enforce.
Murphy said the city plans to enforce the owner-occupancy rule by relying mainly on neighbors to submit complaints to the city’s zoning department if the homeowners don’t comply by the rules.
Four city residents spoke during the meeting’s public comment period, with some voicing safety concerns and others saying they welcome the change.
“I do feel that I am unfairly restricted in this avenue of short-term rentals because of where the location of my property is,” said Virginia Payne, a homeowner in the city. “There are allowances for people outside of certain areas, even allowances for people to own bed and breakfasts on certain streets in the city, but that’s not an option for my property, and I am in favor of short-term rentals.”
Fife and Drum Inn co-owner Billy Scruggs said allowing short-term rentals in the city would take business away from existing affordable hotels and motels in the area.
“I would certainly suggest that council would not consider this for the lodging needs of our visitors, it’s not needed for visitors,” he said. “It’s going to be a lower price point in most cases, and we’ve got plenty of lower price-point properties that need business.”
Council members agreed the new regulations will allow homeowners to benefit from an additional revenue source, and said the city’s application process and the review process on services such as Airbnb minimize the potential for abuse on the part of homeowners and short-term renters.
“I think we’re coming up with a fair solution for those property owners that want to rent out a room in their house,” said Vice-Mayor Doug Pons. “By having to go through the BZA, being owner-occupied, limiting it to 104 room nights, we’re finding a pretty good balance.”
Also at the meeting, City Council adopted four new city roads at the new Quarterpath residential development, and appointed Kenneth Gross and Michael Stevens to fill two vacant positions on the city’s Architectural Review Board.
Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.