Homestay regulations in Albemarle County

ERIN EDGERTON/THE DAILY PROGRESS County staff meet with local residents to explain new home stay regulations on Saturday at Northside Library.

Albemarle County is trying to bring short-term rental operators into compliance with new local rules.

On Saturday, county staff held a workshop to explain the new regulations and to give homeowners a chance to talk with staff about filing an application.

In August, after more than two years of meetings and outreach, the Board of Supervisors voted to change regulations for homestays and short-term rentals, such as Airbnb.

“We found so many people were not contacting us to come into compliance,” said Rebecca Ragsdale, a county principal planner.

Under the new regulations, on all residential district properties and rural area-zoned properties smaller than 5 acres, owners can rent out only two rooms; on rural area-zoned properties larger than 5 acres, owners can rent out five rooms.

Homweowners can rent out their whole house, without staying present on site, only on rural area-zoned properties larger than 5 acres, and only for a maximum of seven days in a month and a total of 45 days a year.

Homestay operators must meet other requirements and get a permit from the county, which requires a fire safety and building code inspection. They also must get a Business License and pay Business Tangible Personal Property and Transient Occupancy taxes.

Lea Brumfield, a county senior planner, said staff members were hosting workshops because the board has prioritized making sure people operating homestays are complying with county regulations.

“Homestays are a business — it feels like it shouldn’t be — but it is actually a commercial business that you’re running out of your home, which is why we regulate it,” she said.

At Saturday’s workshop, residents heard a staff presentation, could ask general questions and then sat down with representatives from the county’s finance department, community development, Office of the Fire Marshal and the Virginia Department of Health to ask specific questions about their property.

Some community members in attendance questioned the changes.

A woman in the audience asked why the Board of Supervisors decided to enact these regulations.

“They wanted to avoid any problems from homestays,” Brumfield responded. “We know that a lot of people are interested in homestays, as evidence by this workshop. A lot of people want to do this and it is a commercial use, so we want to avoid any problems from bothering your neighbors with loud noises, to having a lot of cars clogging up the road, so they put these regulations in place.”

The woman asked if the county has had many of those problems already.

“We try not to react to problems; we try to avoid them before they happen,” Brumfield said.

“So it’s based on fear of what could happen?” the woman asked.

Ragsdale said the county has allowed the short-term rental use since 1976 and that the county knows rentals are an important land use activity that supports tourism.

“The taxes are those that are required by state law,” she said. “When we updated the regulations, we wanted to come up with something that struck a balance between continuing to allow for the use but also [considering] other things like neighborhood impact and not commercializing the rural areas.”

After the meeting, one area resident, who declined to give her name, said she only rents her house out during the University of Virginia’s graduation weekend.

“The county has created a nightmare for themselves, they have put so many layers on here,” she said. “They’re going to have to hire more employees. If they’re going to enforce what they say they want to do, it’s going to be ... a mess.”

The county is using a third-party software to identify homestays that are operating without a permit in an effort to determine how many there are and to develop a compliance plan. County staff will go back to the Board of Supervisors in the spring to present more data and long-term compliance information.

Others in attendance, like Luanne and Kelly Chamberlain, were supportive of the county’s homestay regulations. They received their permit in 2017. Kelly Chamberlain said he wants the county to require proof of homeowner’s insurance and proof that the homeowner has notified their insurer that he or she is operating a homestay.

“It’s insurance to protect their neighbors,” he said. “These Airbnbs are being operated in neighborhoods, and if that house, or carriage house, catches on fire and it burns their house and three houses around it, and insurance companies don’t pay for it, now they’ve decimated the whole neighborhood.”

The county will likely hold other homestay workshops, including one in Crozet on Dec. 10.

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