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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Supervisors to hold hearings on zoning rules to allow short-term rentals

This three-bedroom guesthouse on Hummer Road in Annandale is available on Airbnb for $220 per night. [Airbnb] 
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on March 20 authorized public hearings on proposed zoning rules on short-term rentals, such as those offered through Airbnb.

The Planning Commission is scheduled to hold its hearing on May 3, and the BoS hearing would be on June 19.

The county has been working on the new zoning rules over the past year, following a 2017 state law that allows local governments to regulate short-term rentals. The proposed rules are an attempt to balance neighborhood concerns with homeowners’ desires to earn rental income through the sharing economy.

Except for bed-and-breakfasts and hotels, the zoning ordinance doesn’t permit transient occupancy, which is defined as a rental of less than 30 days.

Here are the key provisions of the proposed rules:
  • Property owners or renters could only offer their primary residence as short-term lodging. That would prevent businesses from operating multiple, full-time rentals, such as a hotel or motel, in residential neighborhoods.
  • Guests would be limited to six adults, and the lodgers must all be associated with the same rental contract to prevent multiple rentals of a property at the same time.
  • To protect neighborhoods, properties may not be rented for events or commercial purposes, such as parties, weddings, or fundraisers.
  • A property could not be rented out on a short-term basis for more than 90 nights a year or 25 percent of a year. 
  • The Planning Commission and BoS will consider whether homeowners or renters must be present in their property when it is used as short-term lodging.
  • Operators of short-term operators would have to get a permit, which could be revoked if there are violations, and properties must be made available for inspection by county code enforcement staff upon request.
The BoS reports there are an estimated 1,500 active Airbnb listings in Fairfax County, yet the county has only received 54 complaints about short-term rentals.

If enacted, a new zoning ordinance on short-term rentals wouldn’t prohibit individual homeowners associations or community associations from establishing more stringent rules or even banning short-term rentals outright.

Operators of short-term rentals would be required to pay transient occupancy taxes. County leaders calculate that these rentals could generate about $428,000 a year. Of this amount, nearly $250,000 would go to the county’s coffers, and the remaining amount would be used to support tourism and regional transportation as required by state law.

In drafting the proposed rules, zoning officials engaged in extensive public input, the BoS states, including four community meetings and additional meetings with HOAs, civic groups, tourism professionals, real estate agents, and representatives from the short-term lodging and hotel industry. County staff also participated in a workgroup with other local jurisdictions that are considering or have adopted regulations, including Arlington, Alexandria, and Loudoun County. More than 7,600 people responded to an online survey.

In a separate issue, Fairfax County is considering whether to create zoning rules in the future for commercially managed apartment buildings that offer short-term lodging.


  1. No motels in our residential neighborhoods!
    Our neighborhoods are tired of fighting overcrowded houses and battling parking problems. There is no good reason for the county to overturn the ban on motels operating in our neighborhoods. Why open the door to this nuisance? Interestingly, towns which did allow them are now reversing course and starting to ban them in residential neighborhoods. Protect our neighborhoods.

  2. I hope the county respects the rights of property owners. Its nobody's business what one does with their home. Further, there really isn't any problem with Air BnB in communities where they operate freely. The only real reason they're illegal anywhere is because of the hotel lobby. Hoteliers, like most business groups, band together to create artificial barriers to competition.

    Here's my prediction - the County passes something close to what's referenced in this article, nothing bad happens, and the whole issue fades away.

    1. From post by Matt C: "Its nobody's business what one does with their home." What?! It's called zoning and we do have a say in how property is used. Anyone who bought a home in Fairfax County did so with the protection of a prohibition on transient occupancy (motels) and other commercial activities in their neighborhoods.

    2. Totally agree, Anonymous 158pm. It is your neighborhood's business. That's why there are zoning laws and HOAs. People relied on those when they bought their houses and that is a right too. Matt C - sounds like you use or have lent your house through AirBNB -- maybe you are a responsible owner, but what about those that simply use a house as a cash cow? Where is fairness to the neighbors in that? I live in a nice middle class quiet neighborhood and have 2 small kids -- the last thing I would want next to me is a house that changes "tenants" every weekend.

  3. My parents owned one beach cottage up north when I was a kid and rented it out (or shared it with framily) now and then when we weren't there. We didn't rent it to strangers, but once in a while, we would discover that something had been damaged or broken, or would get word that someone had hosted a peace-disturbing party (in a dry town!) or had violated some of the small town's other rather strict rules. It was hard to make amends with the neighbors after the fact.

    Later on, my parents rented out the more upscale townhouse in which they were going to retire (before Dad passed away). It was in a private community with housekeeping services and staff who would keep a close eye on any damage or misconduct. It made a big difference.

    My point: some people renting out their property care more than others about what renters do while they're away; if people want to run a B&B, I think they should be required to stay home or hire a service to "patrol" the place, allowing neighbors to report any problems, law-violating or otherwise.

  4. Thanks for the article on this! The proposed regs in ffx county look pretty reasonable, in my view.

  5. A few comments for consideration. First, is FFX County up to the task of code compliance? In many parts of the County, code compliance appears to be aspirational rather than a reality. Second, what is the motivation behind the STR push? I do not see STRs as a way to bring in tourist dollars. While I love FFX, it's not a tourist destination, and I suspect most tourists will prefer to stay in DC, Crystal City, etc. Third, in reviewing the proposed rule, I did not see a provision that would prohibit a homeowner from renting to the same group of people for a 90-day period. Just switch the name of the renter for each contract. No limit on the number of minors, apparently. Lastly, unless I misread the proposed reg, the County proposes to adopt a 3 strikes policy. Really? And, how long will that take to process with appeals and sporadic enforcement at best? In sum, the modest revenue gain for the County may not outweigh the potential risks to our neighborhoods and quality of life.

    1. You are right to call out the serious problems with the county's code enforcement. The illegal airbnb on our street was never cited for a violation even though the county "investigated" it for more than six months. During that entire time, renters came and went and even submitted comments on airbnb's site about their stay at that house. Ridiculous.

  6. Just say no and vote these Supervisors out for supporting this imitative without fully understanding the impact on neighborhood life in Fairfax. There lack of empathy for their constituents, Civic Assoc and HOA astounds me.


  7. Here is the problem, the BoS is not very smart, there sort of the Board of Stupids.

    In Eastern Long Island/Suffolk County their BOS put the STR on the ballot, with the caveat that any household that rented our units in their single family homes would pay an increased assessment in their property tax to cover the costs of additional County services that would be incurred. The vote did not pass and their renter problem went away.

    Now that's smart!

    1. I like that idea!

  8. Need to write to the planning commission and board of supervisors and tell them that this is a stupid plan. So is the plan to build an asphalt plant near several Springfield neighborhoods. No motels next door! No Asphalt plant. What is going on?

  9. Concerned citizens should contact the Planning Commission and BoS. There is plenty of time to do so. My fear is the draft reg does just enough to provide cover for our esteemed reps who profess to care about our neighborhoods and quality of life. I just don't see how the potential benefit to our community can outweigh the potential harm.