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It was inevitable: The freewheeling world of short-term rentals likely will be regulated soon by the Fairfax County government.

The Board of Supervisors on March 20 authorized a series of public hearings on a proposed ordinance amendment for short-term rentals.

County officials have proposed the ordinance amendment to regulate the rentals of dwellings for less then 30 days, which have become more popular thanks to online hosting platforms such as Airbnb, Vacation Rental by Owner, FlipKey and TripAdvisor.

The county will hold a Planning Commission hearing on May 3 and a Board of Supervisors hearing on June 19.

Because Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, the county needed authority from the General Assembly to address the matter. State lawmakers last year passed a bill allowing localities to regulate short-term rentals through their land-use and zoning authorities.  

Fairfax County officials have held four county-wide public meetings at community centers, conducted an online survey and created a dedicated Web site for the proposed amendment, which would:

• Refine the county code’s definition of “hotel” to make it apply to one or more persons, as opposed to the current four or more.

• Require hotels to report and remit their transient-occupancy taxes on a monthly basis, versus quarterly as is the case now.

• Create a short-term-lodging permit that would cost $200 and be valid for two years. County officials recommend giving current operators of short-term lodgings a 90-to-120-day grace period in which to obtain such permits following the ordinance’s adoption. County staff members recommended the ordinance, if adopted, should take effect on Oct. 1, 2018.

• Limit such rentals to 90 days per year.

• Allow each dwelling to have no more than six occupants per night and require that they all be covered under the same rental contract.

• Require that operators be the properties’ permanent residents.

• Allow short-term rentals in all residential  zones, but not in workforce or affordable-housing units, detached accessory structures, accessory dwelling units or temporary family-health-care structures.

• Commercial events such as weddings, parties and catered dinners would not be allowed unless hosted by the principal owners.

Staff estimated the county could collect $428,268 in additional transient-occupancy-tax revenue from short-term rentals. Officials based that figure on the assumption that the current 1,549 active operators would rent their dwellings for 64 nights per year at an average rate of $72 per night.

The 6-percent tax would be divided evenly between a general transient-occupancy tax, a tourism tax and a share for regional transportation. One-quarter of the tourism share would be allotted to the Fairfax County Convention and Visitors’ Center and the rest for the county’s tourism-promotion efforts.

The county also would rake in about $150,000 from short-term-lodging permit fees, officials projected.

Supervisors at the March 20 meeting expressed satisfaction that the county would be addressing the short-term-rental situation, but some had further questions.

Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville) pressed county staff to clarify the definition of rental properties’ “authorized agents.”

County staff responded that such agents would have to be available 24 hours per day during the rental periods and provide the county government with a contact number.

Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock) suggested the agents should be adults, physically present in Fairfax County at all times while serving as agents, and have transportation to get to rental sites within an hour if problems arise.

Supervisor Penelope Gross (D-Mason) said she hoped the proposed ordinance would be even more restrictive, and wondered if homeowner associations’ (HOA) bylaws could prohibit such rentals.

“HOAs are very concerned,” Gross said. “They already are having some experiences with it and are not happy.”

According to the staff report, the ordinance would not supersede an HOA’s restrictive covenants.

Parking for short-term rentals also could pose problems for residents in densely populated areas, said Supervisor Linda Smyth (D-Providence).

According to the county’s staff report, only 54 short-term-rental properties have been the subject of complaints regarding such uses.

The “shared economy” took the county by storm and the proposed ordinance would take some steps toward regulating short-term rentals, including registration for operators, said Supervisor Jeff McKay (D-Lee).

“Let us begin oversight of things that already are out there,” he said.

The ordinance will try to balance competing needs, Cook said.

“We’ve got a number of people who do this to get extra funds,” he said. “They go on vacation and do it successfully without affecting neighbors. I like limiting the number of times when this can happen.”

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