Airbnb Hosts Get Rude Awakening 

Thinking about renting out your place in Richmond? Think again, city says.

click to enlarge It might not be so easy to rent out your place in Richmond through the popular site Airbnb until rules are more clear. - AIRBNB.COM
  • It might not be so easy to rent out your place in Richmond through the popular site Airbnb until rules are more clear.

With the international bike races ready to flood Richmond with thousands of visitors in September, local property owners are hoping to rent some 385 or so apartments, rooms or houses on a short-term basis to overnight guests.

Some would-be hosts are in for a nasty surprise.

City zoning rules forbid rentals of less than 30 days, dashing the hopes of many to score easy overnight rental money.

It was a rude lesson for John Giglia, who started renting out a two-bedroom apartment in a Fan District condominium in early April. It booked on the online rental site AirBNB for about $100 a night for a couple with a $25 option for up to two others.

Giglia says there were no problems with his condo rules, and after reviewing the Virginia Landlord-Tenant Act he found no restrictions on short-term leasing.

“I didn’t contact the city because I had read articles in publications like Style Weekly that the city was formulating rules,” he says.

But after a neighbor complained, the city’s zoning department got on his case.

Giglia says zoning administrator William C. Davidson told him he was violating ordinances that prevent the rental of any home or apartment in its entirety for fewer than 30 days, “and to a group of people, in any combination of people, that doesn’t fit the definition of a family.”

That would mean many of the Richmond property owners advertising on Airbnb won’t be able to rent either, Giglia says. On its website, Airbnb says that renters should check local ordinances for any restrictions on shorter-term rentals.

The Airbnb phenomenon has created rental turmoil across the country. Tourism-heavy cities such as New York and New Orleans have similar 30-day rental requirements. In the Big Easy’s quaint French Quarter, rental contracts must run for 60 days or longer.

Localities also are scrambling to come up with taxes and regulations for Internet-based housing rentals, similar to those for hotels. Professional hotel operators complain that spare room online rentals undercut their prices, need no special use permits, pay no taxes and aren’t required to undergo safety and health inspections.

That’s changing in some places. On May 13, legislators in Montgomery County, Maryland, expanded the definition of “hotel” to include spare rooms and levied a 7-percent hotel tax from renters. The county hopes to generate $230,000 through them.

City Councilman Charles Samuels, who represents the Second District, says he’s sent a paper to the city administration asking what changes to the rules it would advise “to keep up with technology.” That might include applying for special permissions or paying taxes, he says: “It is up to them to tell us.”

Both he and Giglia say that if the current policy stands, scores of property owners hoping for short-term rentals to some of the tens of thousands of visitors to the UCI Road World Championships Sept. 19-27 may be out of luck.

“Yes sir, it is going to have an impact on them,” Giglia says.

Samuels says he doesn’t know when any substantive changes in the zoning rules might be passed.

Editor's note: This story reflects a correction to a previous version that said the race is estimated to attract some 450,000 visitors. But that number refers to an estimate of on-site spectators over the course of nine days, some of whom will be from within the region. Various studies on the number of visitors have come up with different predictions.

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