Realtors associations sue Virginia Beach over new short-term rental regulations, calling them ‘illegal’

Virginia Beach

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — The Virginia Association of Realtors, the Hampton Roads Realtors Association and two Virginia Beach citizens are suing the city in hopes of overturning the latest set of regulations short-term rentals must follow.

The 12-page suit filed recently in Virginia Beach Circuit Court claims the city’s latest attempt to set rules for those renting out their properties on platforms such as Airbnb and Vrbo “exceeded its authority” and is “unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious.”

The lawsuit narrows in on language in the ordinance passed Sept. 7 that deals with tightening safety regulations at the properties. Specifically, the requirements for smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.

Attorneys argue the entire ordinance, which contains a number of other requirements that are far from popular with operators, should be ruled “illegal” as it stands in conflict with state law.

Currently, in order for a person to legally operate their own short-term rental in Virginia Beach, they are required to have an annual zoning inspection completed by the city to look for at least one fire extinguisher, working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.

The language recently passed by City Council says inspectors must ensure “all smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are installed in accordance with the building code in effect at the time of construction and interconnected.”

Attorneys argue the fact that City Council never defined what they meant by “interconnected” is a problem because state law states that any installation of smoke detectors done to satisfy building code “shall be permitted to be either battery operated or AC powered” and that “such installation shall not require new or additional wiring.”

“STR owners and operators … should not and cannot be tasked with having to interpret vague and ambiguous language in the STR ordinance,” the complaint read. “There is no authority in state law for ‘[u]nits constructed prior to interconnection requirements,’ to have smoke alarms installled other than in conformity with the Uniform Statewide Building Code or the Statewide Fire Prevention Code.”

Attorneys with Richmond-based Gentry Locke did not return requests for comment and neither did the Hampton Roads Realtors Association.

The suit lays out that the realtors and short-term rental owners represent people that have contributed to the state’s economy by owning and operating short-term rentals throughout the city for many years.

In their appeal to a judge for relief, the attorneys also brought up City Council’s recent decision to implement overlay districts. Current overlays ban new short-term rentals outside of Sandbridge and the Oceanfront resort area, which attorneys claim “substantially destroys the private property rights of hundreds and most likely thousands of property owners who either own or planned to own STRs in that area.”

The core issue that has catapulted this issue from City Hall to the courthouse is that while vacation homes have been a part of the coastal resort city’s fabric for decades, the rise of digital homes sharing platforms like Airbnb and Vrbo have made it easier for anyone — not just professional management companies — to cash in.

Complaints from neighbors of short-term rentals have grown with stories of parking nightmares, out-of-control parties that end in violence and an overall disruption to traditional owner-occupied neighborhoods.

They’ve pressed City Council to do something to stop the proliferation of the rentals. Owners and operators of short-term rentals however say the rules are only punishing those who are being responsible.

Attorney Mark Stiles said as of Tuesday, the city had not been served the lawsuit.

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