Proposal could legalize short-term rentals in Henrico

Henrico could legalize short-term rentals

HENRICO, VA (WWBT) - Short-term rentals could be legalized in Henrico County in the near future if officials approve an ordinance change.

On Thursday, members of the Henrico County Planning Commission will discuss changes to the ordinance to allow residents to rent out their homes.

Currently short-term rentals like Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway are illegal in the county.

Some homeowners in the Coventry neighborhood would like to keep it that way after a multitude of issues with an illegal Airbnb that operated on their street in the past.

"County residents didn't buy their homes to have hotels or Airbnbs operating in residential areas,” said Valerie Acosta, of Henrico. “We purchased our home to have a quality of life, to feel safe and to enjoy where we're living."

Acosta said for more than two years, one of her neighbors operated an Airbnb before she and others contacted the county to shut it down.

"We were woken up early in the morning with people checking in or late at night during all hours of the day,” Acosta said. “We weren't able to live as freely as we are now."

Now, with a proposal to allow short-term rentals in Henrico, she’s worried about the issues that could potentially come back.

“When a wedding reception was held across the street we had no idea what was going on,” Acosta said. “We saw catering trucks arriving, a tent being put up in the backyard and tons of cars. They also filmed commercials at the house.”

Photos taken by Acosta show several cars lining the street on one of the film days.

“Those are just a few of the problems any homeowner in Henrico County can have,” she added. “We don’t want people having the same issues we’ve had.”

Meanwhile, some residents are for legalizing short-term rentals in the County.

"I think it's perfectly fine," said Taylor Ward.

According to Benjamin Blankinship in the County Planning Department, officials first started talking about short-term rentals back in 2015 for the World Cycling Championships. Since then, these rentals have grown in popularity.

Blankinship added they are aware of hundreds of people currently operating these rentals illegally, which is part of the reason why they wanted to have a conversation about how to regulate them.

“It needs to be looked at and studied really hard,” said John Haynes.

Two major changes are up for proposal Thursday.

One deals with zoning; specifically looking at the difference between hosted and unhosted rentals.

  • Hosted rentals, where the homeowner is on property, could be permitted up to 30 days per-year. Anything more would need a conditional use permit. 
  • Unhosted rentals, where the homeowner vacates the property for the stay, would automatically need a conditional use permit.

However, neighbors are concerned about how these factors would be regulated.

“They’re not doing a good job of enforcing it right now,” Acosta said. “They’re going to have a bigger issue moving forward with enforcement as people have the kinds of problems we do.”

According to Blankinship, they haven’t received very many complaints about these short-term rentals; but the ones they have gotten, are bad.

“People holding weddings at their homes,” Acosta said. “People bringing extra guests that aren’t even signed up for the home to use the home.”

The other part of the change up for discussion would require homeowners to join a registry if they choose to take part in these short-term rentals. If someone does not register and they decide to rent their home short-term, they could face a $500 fine.

Acosta added the situation that happened in Church Hill over the weekend is extremely concerning.

Blankinship said trying to track down these illegal rentals has been tough until now.

The county has a contract with a software company that is currently searching the websites to see if anyone is renting their homes out. In turn, the homeowners are receiving notices about the law and a mention of the meeting.

The Planning Commission will meet Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Board Room of the County Government building (4301 E. Parham Road) to discuss this issue.

The Board of Supervisors would have to vote on this matter before anything goes into effect.

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