Obtaining the rights to operate an Airbnb or Vrbo in Virginia Beach is not “a very fair or just process”, some say

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – Some of those looking to legally operate short-term rentals in Virginia Beach say the current process isn’t “fair” and the city’s proposed changes aren’t much better.

The Virginia Beach Planning Commission recently recommended that city council approve new regulations that would severely limit which communities can rent homes for less than 30 days. They also advised limiting the number of landlords within a particular community who would be allowed to operate a short-term rental.

This is just the last set of rules to be debated when it comes to short-term leasing. Since 2015, the city council has complained about how to regulate the growing industry.

Owners in the tourist town can earn extra cash by renting out their properties through sites like Airbnb and Vrbo to vacationers who prefer homes over hotels. However, homeowners in coastal communities and not interested in renting have complained that the the constant flow of strangers coming and going is disruptive.

Finding a pleasant balance has improved almost impossible.

“This is by far the most difficult problem in terms of stress,” said City Councilor Guy Tower (Beach District) who was one of those leading the effort to further regulate short-term rentals. “There are people in the neighborhoods who, when they bought, didn’t expect to have short-term rentals to manage.”

In the past month, the outrage over the problem of some North End owners has spilled over after shots were fired at a party outside of an unregulated short-term rental.

However, proponents of short-term rentals argue that one bad owner or manager shouldn’t ruin things for everyone.

Fair process?

Scott Westfall, a CGP Real Estate broker, said he was contacted late last year by Bao Lo following Lo’s purchase of a house over 4,600 square feet, three story, four bedroom off 25th Street in the Old Beach neighborhood near the waterfront.

Westfall said Lo and his family still live in Northern Virginia, but travel frequently to Virginia Beach and purchased the property with the intention of retiring there.

In the meantime, he had hoped to rent it out to vacationers.

“It was kind of their dream to own their own property that they could one day retire in and also share with other people and share the experience they have gained over the past 10 years,” said said Westfall.

Westfall was hired to help Lo with the legal rental process for his home. Under the last rules adopted by the city council in 2019 to manage rentals, this meant that Lo would have to obtain a conditional use permit (CUP).

The permit obliges the owner to adhere to specific operating rules and regulations.

The Planning Department recommended that the Planning Commission recommend that City Council approve Lo’s application.

His property had enough driveway parking for a maximum of four vehicles and Lo told planners he would adhere to additional restrictions prohibiting special events, limiting overnight occupancy to two people per room and one. only reservation per seven day period.

Westfall would be the property manager and agreed to respond within 30 minutes if there were any issues.

“It met all the requirements of what was in place. Westfall said.

However, the planning commission by a 6-4 vote and the city council by a 10-0 vote rejected his request.

Four letters of objection were submitted, one from each of Lo’s direct neighbors. They worried about the large house attracting revelers from out of town – as well as the fear of the constant comings and goings of people changing the character of the historic Old Beach community.

Westfall said what discouraged Lo the most is the fact that city council had approved an application in the Old Beach community several weeks ago, and the house that supports his is currently being marketed as a rental at short term.

“In my opinion, that’s not fair,” Westfall said. “[Lo] don’t think this is a very fair process or just in the way city council has proceeded to deal with each of these requests … [Lo] owns this property, he would like to use it however he wants. He wants to be part of this neighborhood. He has no intention of upsetting any of his neighbors.

However, Tower, which represents the Old Beach neighborhood, countered that no one should be convinced that they will automatically receive approval.

“It was never the intention. It was always a discretionary thing with the board, that if there were too many in an area or they didn’t feel too comfortable with an operator or any of them, ”said Tower.

An analysis by 10 On Your Side found that City Council turned down 17% of short-term rental applications submitted to it in 2020. The highest percentage of turndowns was located in the Bayside neighborhood which includes the west side of Shore Drive on the Chesapeake. The Bay.

As the petitions hearings pushed city council meetings late into the night, Tower along with Deputy Mayor Jim Wood (Lynnhaven District) and City Councilor Louis Jones (Bayside) proposed another new way of doing things.

The world belongs to those who get up early

The latest proposal to regulate short-term rentals will be before city council on April 20.

The Virginia Beach Planning Commission has amended Wood, Jones and Tower’s proposal to limit short-term rentals to the communities of Sandbridge, the Oceanfront resort area, parts of the North End and about 23 blocks to the north of Shore Drive, east of Lynnhaven. Entrance.

The communities were chosen because they have historically welcomed vacationers, and short-term rentals are unlikely to change the dynamics of the neighborhood much.

In Sandbridge and the resort area, UPCs will no longer be required for a person to have a short-term rental as long as they live within the set limits. This means that a person could start functioning after receiving approval from the planning department. They would be allowed to have up to two rentals in any given week.

In the North End and Shore Drive area, short-term rentals would only be permitted by the CUP, still with a rental every seven days. No further applications will be approved once 10.6% of homes in the North End community and 11.5% of homes in the Shore Drive community are licensed.

Those currently operating short-term rentals outside of specific communities would see their UPCs “revised” for violations every five years. If violations of the regulations are found, the municipal council can revoke the permit.

None of this applies to landowners who were already in business and up to date and registered with the commissioner of the revenue office before July 1, 2018. In this case, they never needed a UPC.

A view of the proposed beachfront boundaries for short-term rentals (City of Virginia Beach)

Critics of the plan say the latest proposal ensures that only those who started operating short-term rentals early on can continue to operate.

Tower said, in a sense, “the early bird will get the worm.”

As of April, the city estimated that 2,700 properties in the city were operating on short-term rentals. All of these operators are required to pay municipal and state taxes, as are hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts.

Those who do not operate “legally” face a fine of up to $ 200 for the first offense and $ 500 for any additional offense.

Under the new proposal, the difference between “legal” and “illegal” could depend only on which side of the street your property is on.

When asked if it was right, Wood replied “it is what it is”.

Planning director Bobby Tajan said his department is currently paying an outside company to track who is operating without a license.

Following pressure from several board members for stricter enforcement of short-term rentals, Tajan is proposing an annual user fee of $ 150 to $ 200 for short-term rental operators to help pay. the external seller, the staff of a 24/7 staff. “Hotline for people to call for complaints and hire part-time inspectors.

“We have to put on boots on the pitch,” Tajan said. “Help put the citizens at ease who are not functioning… that the city is out there, and the operators also know that we are keeping an eye on them. ”

Tower insisted that whatever was decided could still be changed if they found out it was not working.

Westfall believes this whole ordeal could harm the city in the long run.

“When my wife and I travel, half the time we stay in Airbnbs and half the time we stay in hotels,” Westfall said. “But travel is going to Airbnbs, and if there isn’t that kind of accommodation, we’re going to start losing tourists and tourism dollars.”

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