After nine work sessions, 12 community meetings and four public hearings, Albemarle County has changed its regulations for homestays, which include Airbnbs and other types of short-term rentals.
The Board of Supervisors last week voted to change the regulations, which now divide the county into three categories by zoning districts and size: residential district properties, rural area-zoned properties smaller than 5 acres and rural area-zoned properties larger than 5 acres.
The board also approved a homestay registry requirement and updated the homestay inspection fee ordinance.
On all residential district properties and rural area-zoned properties smaller than 5 acres, owners can only rent out two rooms, while on rural area-zoned properties larger than 5 acres, owners can rent out five rooms.
Only on rural area-zoned properties larger than 5 acres can homeowners rent out their whole house without being present, but only for a maximum of seven days in a month and a total of 45 days a year.
In terms of parking requirements, one off-street space per guest room is required in addition to the parking required for the house.
“In the two years that we took, while it seems like a long time, look at how we’ve been watching other communities changing, and becoming more restrictive, as they’re starting to see the problems that they had with their Airbnbs,” Supervisor Diantha McKeel said.
Since 2017, Albemarle officials have been looking at possible changes to the county’s zoning ordinance regarding bed and breakfasts and transient lodging rentals, which are now being referred to as homestays.
The county had already adopted transient occupancy tax and business license requirements in June.
Homestays are rentals of guestrooms for fewer than 30 consecutive days. Longer consecutive rentals are not governed by these regulations.
Existing bed and breakfasts/transient lodging/homestays that are already permitted may continue to operate as they were approved, but if an owner wants to qualify for new regulations, like the whole house rental, they must submit a new homestay application.
The board and Planning Commission had discussed expanding the use to townhouses and other attached-style housing but ultimately decided to limit the regulations to single-family detached homes.
The ability to have a homestay on one’s property requires that the owner reside on that property at least 180 days within a calendar year.
Renters are not allowed to operate homestays.
Homestay owners are also now required to provide the name, telephone number and emergency contact information of the owner and a “designated responsible agent” to abutting property owners yearly. That responsible agent must be available within 30 miles of the homestay at all times during a homestay use and must respond and attempt in good faith to resolve any complaint within an hour of being contacted.
Owners can apply for a special exception for certain things, such as having more than two guest rooms and having a resident manager instead of the owner requirement, but those must meet certain criteria and be approved by the Board of Supervisors.
The county is now requiring homestay operators to register, and they are required to provide the operator’s complete name and the address of each property in the county offered for short-term rental by the operator. They also must pay a $27 fee.
If the operator doesn’t register, they could be charged a $500 fine per day they do not register.
The board also approved a $50 homestay inspection fee ordinance, which would be utilized to off-set the cost of additional part-time staffing to overtime costs to help address the impact to staff capacity. Homestays are already required to pay a homestay clearance application fee and the $50 inspection fee, but the vote added it to the fire marshal fee schedule.
The county started in April using a third-party software to identify homestays that are operating without a permit to determine how many there are and to develop a compliance plan.
“The plan was always to begin with an educational outreach for those who can comply, because our goal is to inform them of the regulations and bring them into a proper permit and proper finance scheme for running that business,” said Amelia McCulley, the county’s deputy director of community development.
Bart Svoboda, the county’s zoning administrator, said county staff are going to come back to the board in March with the data and more compliance information.
During the public hearing, Robert Tupelo-Schneck said his homestay has been a “real godsend” to his family and has provided a way for his wife to work at home part-time, where she can take care of their youngest child.
“We initially didn’t pay much attention to the process leading to the new regulations because we thought the intention was to broaden opportunities for residents to engage in home rentals,” he said.
He said that the words “broaden opportunities for residents to engage in rentals” still appear on the county website.
“Their are other families in the county in the residential districts or in the rural areas on smaller lots who would benefit from the financial opportunity of operating a homestay, and the new ordinance will make it harder for them than it was for us,” Tupelo-Schneck said.
Jim Donahue, president of the Canterbury Hills Neighborhood Association, said the county has very adequately addressed all of the association’s concerns.
“We are very pleased that you have considered all of our concerns of the previous draft ordinance and have incorporated all of our suggestions,” he said.