Region Forward Blog

Being a good neighbor: How the Metro D.C. area is managing the impact of short-term rentals

Oct 17, 2017

Airbnb (Open Grid Scheduler/Flickr)

For nearly a decade, home-sharing platforms have enticed an increasing number of property owners to offer short-term rentals. Most of these rentals have operated with little to no oversight or accountability with varying costs and benefits to both the owners and surrounding community. In many parts of metropolitan Washington, language to allow and regulate their use remains under development.

Between all of the different platforms (Airbnb, VRBO, Tripping, Homeaway, FlipKey, roomarama, etc.), no one knows exactly how many units are listed and available, but there may be tens of thousands of listings across metropolitan Washington. An independent website that scans listings from Airbnb, found 8,000 unique listings in the District of Columbia alone during the first half of 2017. 

While home-sharing platforms enable homeowners to leverage an asset they already own to earn income and offer a new choice for travelers, it comes with some costs, especially for neighbors. Short-term rentals can lead to an influx of strangers to a neighborhood on a regular basis along with issues ranging from party houses to parking problems. Conversations about short-term rentals quickly become debates on public safety, entrepreneurialism, and housing affordability. 

Across our region, local jurisdictions are determining how to manage the impact of short-term rentals.  One of the most common obstacles that must be addressed is whether to allow residents to rent out a home or part of a home for fewer than 30 days. In Montgomery County, following a year of study and public input, the Planning Board requested that a new short-term residential use be added with certain conditions. For example, the property owner or tenant who “hosts” the short-term rental must be the primary resident of the home, occupancy would be restricted to a maximum of 90 days per year if the host will not be present, and all short-term rentals should be monitored and licensed by the county. These recommendations are currently being reviewed by the Montgomery County Council. 

Across the Potomac, after the Virginia General Assembly authorized localities to adopt an ordinance registering persons offering property as short-term rentals. A Northern Virginia work group composed of staff from legislative teams, Commissioner of the Revenue, planning, and zoning met to discuss common elements of future ordinances. Areas of focus have included registration, taxation, zoning, and public safety. Members of this work group hope to develop language that will help their jurisdictions consider how to implement a registry and create rules around short-term rentals.  

D.C. is also determining how to regulate short-term rentals as well as their impact on affordable housing. Legislation to limit owners to only renting the home they live in to protect affordable housing in the city is under review by the D.C. Council.    

At the September joint meeting of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) Housing Directors Advisory Committee (HDAC) and the Planning Directors Technical Advisory Committee (PDTAC), Brooks Rainwater and Nicole DuPuis, both with the National League of Cities, shared insights from research they have completed on the sharing economy. They emphasized that balancing the tension between promoting innovation and preserving neighborhood character is a hyper-local decision with no one-size-fits-all approach. Over the coming months, we will learn what approaches our region’s jurisdictions decide works best for them. Both HDAC and PDTAC will continue to discuss best practices and lessons learned from regulating short-term rentals as these policies evolve and COG will share this information with its members.

MORE: Agenda, presentations, and more from the joint meeting of housing and planning directors at COG.

Nicole McCall is a senior regional planner at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

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