Having tweaked their proposal following months of public feedback, city planners are moving forward with a revised set of rules that would allow, and regulate, short-term residential rentals in Richmond.
The latest version of the proposal, which emphasizes restrictions based on property use more so than frequency of rentals, is set to be presented to the Richmond Planning Commission at its meeting this Monday.
A public hearing will precede a recommendation to City Council, which could vote on the policy at its Jan. 13 meeting.
A report submitted to the commission shows the revised rules would restrict short-term home rentals to operators’ primary residences, meaning the property where an operator resides at least half the year. At the same time, they no longer include a restriction on the number of nights a dwelling could be rented per year – previously proposed at 180 nights a year.
Other changes made to the policy since it was rolled out last spring include prohibiting existing renters from subleasing their unit as a short-term rental, removing the number of dwelling units that can operate as rentals in multifamily residential and mixed-use zoning districts, and requiring operators to reside on the lot where the rental is located, not in the specific dwelling to be rented.
The rules were revised based on feedback received in meetings and surveys in the past year. The survey results showed a mixed bag in public sentiment for the rules, which the city has been working on since 2015 to allow short-term rentals as a permitted use. Opinions remain mixed, as the commission report includes multiple correspondences from city property owners opposed to or supporting certain parts of the proposal.
Among the opposition letters, the primary residency requirement appears to be a recurring sticking point, with several writers contending that they should be able to rent rooms or houses without having to reside on the property most of the year.
Currently, short-term rentals are not allowed by city ordinance and are therefore considered illegal. Nonetheless, about 750 rentals were active in the city as of Thursday, according to the website AirDNA.
Of those, 68 percent were home rentals, while the rest were room rentals. Ninety percent were listed on Airbnb, while others were listed on HomeAway or both. The average daily rental rate in November was $141, and the occupancy rate was 73 percent in June.
The new policy would allow homes or rooms to be rented for up to 30 days at a time by operators who would be required to obtain a biennial permit at a cost of $300.
Those approved for a permit would be issued a zoning compliance number that must be posted on all rental advertisements. Doing so would help in enforcement, the policy states.
The primary residency requirement is intended to reduce speculative use of private residences as hotels, the policy states, as well as preventing absentee landlords from converting long-term rental properties for short-term rental use. An overarching goal is to preserve the residential character of a neighborhood and limit effects of businesses operating there.
Primary residency would not be required for properties in some mixed-use and commercial zoning districts in the city, under certain conditions. Existing tenants who are renters would not be able to operate rentals themselves, in keeping with similar policies adopted in localities, including Charlottesville, Williamsburg, and Arlington and Fairfax counties.
While the latest proposal does not limit the number of nights a dwelling could be rented per year, staff recommends revisiting the rule after a year to see if a limit is needed. The decision to not include an annual limit was made due to concerns over how to enforce it, the report states.
Operators would not be required to be present every night a dwelling is rented, though the policy notes that, with operators required to reside there 185 days a year, the number of allowable “unhosted” stays would be limited to 180 nights as a result.
The full proposal and accompanying documents can be viewed here. Monday’s meeting starts at 1:30 p.m. in the second-floor conference room at City Hall.