Sunday, December 10, 2023

Airbnb, short-term rentals approved in Williamsburg

(WYDaily/File photo)
(WYDaily/File photo)

Williamsburg residents looking to rent out a room in their home on Airbnb are now in luck.

At its regular monthly meeting at the Stryker Center Thursday, Williamsburg City Council voted 4-1 to approve short-term rentals in the city.

Councilman Ted Maslin voted against it.

“These are our neighbors that might be offering this as a way to make their house a little bit more affordable,” Councilwoman Barbara Ramsey said.

The ordinance allows Williamsburg homeowners to rent out their homes for short-term rentals, which are rentals for 30 days or less. Many short-term rentals are through Airbnb, an online lodging platform that allows members to rent out their homes and apartments for certain periods of time.

Throughout deliberations on the ordinance, City Council has aimed to “find the right balance between what the General Assembly … expects us to do and our desire to keep control here in our community,” Mayor Paul Freiling said.

The ordinance applies to the entire city for single-family, detached, owner-occupied homes.

Homeowners can rent out one room in their home to two adults for up to 104 nights annually under the new ordinance — but must occupy the home during the rental.

Short-term rentals previously have not been permitted in the city except for hotels and motels, City Attorney Christina Shelton said at the meeting.

State code gives localities the ability to regulate short-term rentals, versus creating regulations on the statewide level.

“Over restriction or no use is not governing short-term rentals, it’s just excluding them,” Freiling said.

Freiling added there are some safeguards in the new regulation. Short-term rentals will have owners overseeing the property at all times; the Airbnb platform includes guest reviews that help indicate whether particular guests are problematic; whole houses cannot be rented out; and short-term rentals prevent degradation of properties that may alternatively be rented in the long-term.

“People tend not to take as great of care in a place they’re leasing,” Freiling said. “This is nothing like that.”

In 2018, Airbnbs in Williamsburg hosted a total of 23,700 guests, accumulating an overall income of $2.6 million, according to data from Airbnb.

There are 200 active hosts within Williamsburg. Currently these hosts are limited to hotels, motels, timeshares and bed and breakfast establishments, City Planning Director Carolyn Murphy told WYDaily in January.

Airbnb data showed that on average, the hosts made approximately $8,100 last year from sharing their home about one to two nights a month.

Sharon Davis, a local business owner, said she is able to maintain her rental properties better with short-term rentals versus long-term because she is able to make more money with the short-term rental business model.

“You’re going to get people that are going to get this income that will enhance their homes,” Davis said. 

Under the new ordinance, short-term rentals will need approval of a special exception from the Board of Zoning Appeals.

“This is not a use by right, it’s a special exception,” Shelton said.

Long-term rentals that are not owner-occupied are currently allowed by-right in the city, meaning an owner doesn’t need special approval to use their property in that way.

To get a special exception, the Board of Zoning Appeals needs to hold a public hearing on the application. The homeowner also needs to post a sign in their yard before the public hearing letting passersby know they have an application with the Board of Zoning Appeals, Murphy said.

If the application is denied, the homeowner can then appeal the matter to the Williamsburg-James City County Circuit Court.

Special exceptions can be revoked if the property owner does not follow regulations for that exception.

While each short-term rental needs to be approved by the Board of Zoning Appeals, a home in a neighborhood with a homeowners association is still subject to regulations through its declaration of covenants, conditions and restrictions

For example, Ford’s Colony in James City County does not allow short-term rentals.

For those interested in renting their home, the City of Williamsburg has published a document detailing the differences between bed and breakfasts, room rentals and short-term rentals.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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