A Charlottesville committee is worried that short-term rentals are robbing city residents of much needed housing opportunities, and this week decided to conduct more research on the phenomenon.
The Housing Advisory Committee discussed the rentals and decided to conduct more research during its meeting on Wednesday. The HAC discusses affordable housing priorities and plans and provides policy recommendations to the City Council.
Short-term rentals, also called homestays, which most often are advertised through third-party websites such as Airbnb.com, have presented a quandary for local governments as they challenge local regulations.
“Are there enough of these out there that it’s impacting the rental stock?” asked committee chair Phil d’Oronzio. “I’d make the argument that in the current rental climate in the city of Charlottesville, if it’s happening once it’s happening too much, because we’re at essentially 100% occupancy.”
Residents who live in commercial districts are allowed to operate a short-term rental by-right.
Those who live in a residential zoning area are required to get a homestay permit through the Department of Neighborhood Development Services, obtain a business license and collect the city’s 8% lodging tax. Albemarle County also recently approved its own homestay regulations, which require registration and inspection of eligible properties.
The city permit requires the homeowner to live on the property 180 days of the year and be on site or nearby when it is rented out.
The committee stressed that it’s not concerned about people renting out a room in their house, but is instead focused on whole-home rentals that could take a vacant property off the market.
Chris Meyer, executive director of the Local Energy Alliance Program and a committee member, brought the issue up after seeing problems in his neighborhood.
Meyer said he searched Airbnb prior to the meeting and found 47 houses available for a more than seven-day period.
The committee, however, faces a data roadblock. Airbnb isn’t volunteering information about those who rent through its website, so the city only knows how many people received permits, although several could be operating outside of the law.
Lisa Herndon, a committee member representing the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors, said the city needs to get reliable numbers on the usage of short-term rentals before recommending any action.
“I think it’s important to have data,” she said. “Because I wouldn’t want us to make assumptions about what is really going on.”
Zoning Administrator Read Brodhead said 250 to 275 permits have been issued since 2017.
Planning Commissioner Lyle Solla-Yates said a 2017 housing needs assessment estimated that 1.1% of all units in the city were being used for short-term rentals.
Brodhead said the city doesn’t get a lot of complaints about the issue, but he’s heard of several renters violating the rule that no more than six adults can be in the rental at any time.
“There’s so many people breaking the law,” he said.
D’Oronzio asked Brodhead if Airbnb would provide information if asked. Brodhead said it was highly unlikely.
He highlighted the company’s unwillingness to share information under its proposed agreements with localities to collect lodging taxes.
The agreement would automatically add the tax to booking fees, but would shield the identity of the owner of a rental property, prohibiting an audit of individual hosts.
Commissioner of the Revenue Todd Divers is vehemently opposed to such an agreement.
“If they’re so tight-lipped on the money and taxes, I don’t how much they’d be willing to share with us,” Brodhead said.
Del.-elect Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, emphasized the need for such data and said she frequently saw renters with no property owners during the campaign.
“I came to a lot of doors where there was a guest there and no evidence of an owner,” she said.
Molly Conger told the committee to determine how many people are listing multiple properties and violating the regulation requiring occupancy for 180 days.
“If you’re listing three properties, there’s no way you live in all three,” she said.
Hudson said usage appears relatively small.
“This is the kind of thing that a computer science major could whip out in an afternoon,” she said.
Committee members agreed to reach out to people in the community who could help gather the data and didn’t set a timeframe for when such work might be completed.