VB City Council bans all new short-term rentals outside of Sandbridge unless neighborhoods request exemption

Virginia Beach

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — After much back-and-forth, delays and confusion, Virginia Beach city leaders have committed to part of a plan to manage short-term rentals such as Airbnbs.

By a 5-4 vote Tuesday, Virginia Beach City Council banned all new short-term rentals outside of Sandbridge unless a majority of people in a specific neighborhood request to have short-term rentals in their community.

City Council also approved new regulations for how those short-term rentals are to operate if they are approved.

The decision impacts properties that would be rented out for less than 30 days at a time using platforms such as Airbnb and Vrbo.

City Council members say the changes do not intend to impact those who currently operate short-term rentals with the city’s blessing. Still many who currently rent out their properties using the platforms left council chambers in disgust Tuesday night, while applause came from those who say they’re in favor of “protecting” their neighborhoods.

The subject of short-term rentals has been fraught with disagreement among city leaders and locals. Many homeowners in Virginia Beach rent their properties to vacationers — and have for years — but some neighbors have complained the frequent flow of strangers is both disruptive and dangerous.

The new rules were first proposed in September in an effort to allow short-term rentals (STRs) to operate in areas where vacation rentals have traditionally been operating without City Council approval.

Tuesday’s vote came about a week after City Council voted down two parts of the proposal before tabling the rest.

The matter was also deferred three weeks before that. Both previous meetings saw public comment with people on both sides of the issue stretch out for several hours.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer suggested that the matter once again be deferred until September.

However, Councilman John Moss urged City Council to tackle at least part of plan.

“We won’t be any smarter then than now,” Moss said.

Moss moved to approve rules for short-term rental overlay districts, meaning a specific area of the city would be eligible for new short-term rentals if 75% of people in the neighborhood petition City Council to allow them.

All those rentals would also have to fall under new rules that ban events, limit rentals to one rental contract per week and cap occupancy at two adults per bedroom.

No speakers were allowed on the issue Tuesday night, but plenty of people invested in the short-term rental topic attended and wore the color red to express their opposition to any new regulations that allowed for new applications to be approved.

Ultimately, Vice Mayor Jim Wood (Lynnhaven) and council members Louis Jones (Bayside), Barbara Henley (Princess Anne), Guy Tower (Beach) and Moss (At-Large) voted to approve the new rules. Dyer was joined by council members Sabrina Wooten (Centerville), Rosemary Wilson and Aaron Rouse (At-Large) in voting against the rules. Councilman Michael Berlucchi was absent.

“You know it’s just a real weight lifted off our shoulders,” said Nancy Parker, a former city council member who has opposed the expansion of short-term rentals. “Neighborhoods are primary importance to who we are in the City of Virginia Beach so I have to say thank you so much to those members of council who stepped forward and did the right thing for us.”

However, Elaine Fekete, with the Virginia Beach Short-Term Rental Alliance, said the decision is punishing people who are following the rules.

“I think it says that we’re not open for families,” Fekete said. “I represent over 400 people who rent to families. We are not the party houses, we are not the illegal ones, we are the compliant ones and we rent to families as well as our military. City Council didn’t even think about them when they made this decision.”

The Virginia Beach Short-Term Rental Alliance also released a full statement Thursday, saying it was disappointed in the outcome Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the Virginia Beach Property Rights Coalition, released this statement:

“Virginia Beach City Council has banned virtually all new short term vacation rentals, all but killing a century-old industry that is flourishing worldwide. Council’s vote will push short term rentals underground, as the city has demonstrated is not funded, staffed or equipped to threaten, fine or prosecute those who rent their homes without city approval.

“Council’s repeated votes, motions, substitutes, reconsiderations and amendments left the public and frequently Councilmembers confused of what they were voting for or against. No effort was made to protect the rights of homeowners who wish to rent their homes, and the plan that once included four by-right overlay districts now contains none.

“Council will continue to debate what more regulations can be heaped upon the few existing rental homes that escaped Council’s ban, while doing nothing to demonstrate how they will contend with the many new unregistered AirBNB-type rentals that will undoubtedly expand into the Virginia Beach market. Council will drive the legal rentals out of business, since unregistered rentals will ignore regulations and costs Council heaps upon the ones who have followed laws all along.

“Council’s actions are clear. Virginia Beach’s goal is to drive the vacation home rental market out of Virginia Beach, forcing vacationers to rent expensive hotels. More likely, family vacationers will simply choose a more welcoming resort city. Tourism is a top economic engine for Virginia Beach, and Council’s actions are a betrayal to our economy and indefensible by any standard of review.”

Council members still punted on deciding on new across the board safety regulations for all existing short-term rentals. That issue will be considered again in September.

Problem is, it’s that ordinance that calls for the “grandfathering” of all the short-term rentals approved before.

“Are we all illegal now? I don’t know if they even know what they just passed,” one man said as he stormed out of the meeting.

The ordinance up for a vote September 6 communicates that property owners that were already operating short-term rentals without issue and were up-to-date and registered with the Commissioner of the Revenue’s Office prior to July 1, 2018 would be exempt from the ban. As would those who have operated without issue under a Conditional Use Permit.

Those found not operating “legally” can face a fine of up to $200 for the first offense and $500 for any additional.

The issue is far from over, as City Council voted at the end of their meeting to reconsider allowing short-term rentals to operate in the North End area and the Oceanfront resort area without the 75 percent homeowner buy-in.

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