By Sam Brown / Capital News Service
Several Virginia municipalities have recently drafted or passed ordinances to regulate short-term rentals.
Scrutiny of short-term rentals mirrors a nationwide trend. Companies like Airbnb and Vrbo have become popular lodging options for tourists, as well as people in need of temporary housing.
Municipalities have pushed back against the rental options for reasons that include parking issues, noise complaints, trash and septic tank use volume. Supervisors have also cited concern over loss of hospitality tax revenue, as well as limiting available housing inventory.
Approximately 30 localities throughout the U.S. have regulated short-term rentals, according to a Business Insider report.
Most Virginia short-term rentals are found in more populous areas and tourist destinations, according to a Capital News Service analysis of the market research site AirDNA.
The Louisa County Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance earlier this month to add restrictions for short-term rentals and establish the zoning districts where they are allowed.
Rental owners must provide documentation of septic system inspections and repairs to the county. The renter must have the owner’s contact information as part of the new policy. One parking space per bedroom is now required. The changes don’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2025.
Citizens told county supervisors they are concerned about the septic tank failures caused by over-occupied rentals. The new occupancy restrictions hope to limit the impact on septic systems and prevent failures.
Rentals became a hot topic in Louisa due to Lake Anna tourism. There are fewer short-term rentals than in a city like Richmond or Alexandria, but the rentals are entire homes, and a majority larger than three bedrooms, according to AirDNA data.
Short-term rentals spiked in Louisa by 130% over a three-year period, according to AirDNA, with peak occupancy in the warmer months. There are just under 60 rentals, a fraction of the offerings in larger cities.
Residents are worried about the water quality due to septic failures.
“We need to be inspecting these septic systems and particularly the ones where they are being overloaded in rentals,” said Phillip Winston, a Mineral resident who spoke at the meeting.
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality added Lake Anna to the state’s impaired, or “dirty,” waters list last year, due to algae blooms. Parts of the lake have been closed multiple times due to the blooms.
The Lake Anna Civic Association recommended that occupancy be limited to two guests per bedroom to reduce the risk of septic tank damage, according to its website. The Louisa Planning Commission advised county leaders to require conditional use permits for short-term rentals, which would have regulated occupancy.
The Board did not pass that as part of the new ordinance.
Part of Lake Anna is in Spotsylvania County. Spotsylvania has drafted its own ordinance similar to Louisa.
There are over 1,000 listed units in Richmond as of September, an increase of 76% in a three-year period, according to AirDNA data. However, the majority of the units in Virginia are not operated legally, according to a VPM review of city permits in June.
Richmond City Council recently passed a long-debated ordinance that put several new regulations on short-term rentals, including reducing the number of rentals allowed on a lot in residential zoned areas.
Other ordinance changes now require the rental to be located at the host’s primary residence in all residential-zoned districts and limit the maximum occupancy of a rental from 10 to eight people.
City leaders also extended the length of a short-term rental certificate to 730 days and voted to allow homeowners to build an accessory dwelling unit, within parameters, without a permit. These are smaller units like an in-law suite or carriage house.
The changes will help create a “convenient, attractive, and harmonious community” by limiting the number of transient visitors in residential neighborhoods, according to city planners.
Only homeowners can offer short-term rentals, something that 1st District City Councilmember Andreas Addison said there is confusion about.
He heard from several renters upset that they would be unable to generate money from renting out their apartments.
“You cannot rent out your rented apartment,” Addison said. It could be cause for eviction.
Richmond increased regulations because of disturbances to residents, such as parking, trash and late-night noise, according to Addison.
“Short-term rentals I do see as a potential cause of nuisance because if you are not an owner of that house, and you’re renting it out, you don’t really care about the neighborhood,” Addison said. “You’re just there for the money.”
Caroline McDonald is a physical therapy student who plans to use Airbnb during the four months she is temporarily placed at a Richmond hospital. She used Airbnb because of the ease of the rental process, which is a monthly payment with an advance deposit.
“Someone still lives there, but I’m just detached from their house,” McDonald said.
Most rentals will primarily come from pre-existing additions, because of the costs of building a unit solely for a short-term rental, according to Addison.
“I feel like a lot of the concerns and objections being raised and elevated have a place of legitimacy, but I also think they may be a little excessive,” Addison said.
Tourism was a metric the council heavily considered when passing the ordinance.
“We can’t expect people that are going to come to visit the James River with a kayak and a bike to stay in a hotel,” Addison said.
Hampton City Council halted short-term rental permits in August. The decision gives the city time to receive legal guidance and consider its regulatory options, according to Hampton Mayor Donnie Tuck. The pause allows for public input on how to move forward without acting on new permits, Tuck said.
Nearby Virginia Beach, a popular tourist destination, has one of the highest short-term rental listing numbers in the state, at over 2,000, per market data.
Danville has seen an over 800% increase in short-term rental listings in a three-year period, according to AirDNA. The market research indicates there are currently 154 listings. Caesars casino partially opened in Danville this year, with a full opening slated for 2024.
The Danville Planning Commission recently recommended capping the number of rentals allowed in the city, along with other regulations. A public hearing about the commission’s proposals will take place on Nov. 13.