NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Newport News is now allowing for the “legal” operation of short-term rentals in the city for the first time.

They will be “legal” in terms that they will now have to have a business license and pay transient occupancy taxes to the city. However, a quick search of platforms such as Airbnb and Vrbo reveals there are already hundreds of homes being rented in the city. Many have been operating for some time already.

Many of those property owners left City Council chambers Tuesday night saying that actions taken now will make their operations “illegal.”

“It is an absolute travesty. It is complete injustice,” Greg Garrett, CEO of Newport News-based Garrett Realty Partners, said following the City Council’s 4-3 vote to approve regulations on short-term rentals (STR.) “Injustice for people who are entrepreneurs, people that are in the real estate business, for citizens, for neighborhoods.”

Garrett was one of more than 30 people who addressed the council ahead of the vote. All but one person spoke out against provisions that would require an STR operator to: limit overnight guests to two per
bedroom; provide an onsite parking space that is in addition to the number of spaces required for the property by zoning, and require the property to be the owner’s primary residence.

“They basically eliminated 80% to 90% of the rentals,” Garrett said.

Mayor McKinley Price, who along with Vice Mayor Saundra Cherry and council members Pat Woodberry and Sharon Scott voted to approve the regulations, said it was all about striking a balance.

City Council first looked at setting regulations in 2019. However, following concerns, they were referred back to the planning commission and city staff for study.

“A great deal of time, research and thoughtful discussion occurred with representatives from various organizations and the community,” Price said. “The effort going forward is to put balanced regulations in place that make reasonable accommodations for the short-term rentals to be allowed without sacrificing the character of the neighborhoods and exasperating the city’s already challenging housing supply.”

Price said he has seen too many communities that have put regulations in place only to go back after they saw problems in neighborhoods. Virginia Beach and Norfolk have been debating STR regulations for years.

However the meeting ended with City Manager Cindy Rohlf vowing to bring back proposed changes that may calm some concerns.