Sep 27, 2023 - News

Richmond passes new regulations for Airbnb and other short-term rentals

Illustration of a paintbrush painting over the word "Welcome" on a door mat.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

New rules governing short-term rentals in Richmond should make it easier to rein in more than a thousand unlicensed listings, city officials say.

What's happening: A total overhaul of the city's regulations surrounding Airbnb and similar sites.

  • The changes are intended to limit unlicensed units that have proliferated in residential areas while allowing more listings in commercial districts than ever before.

The latest: City Council unanimously approved the changes on Monday night after months of discussion.

Why it matters: City officials framed the new regulations as a way to keep more housing units on the market for long-term residents.

  • "We are in a housing crisis," planning director Kevin Vonck said.

Context: Under the city's existing rules, short-term rentals are only allowed in properties that are owner-occupied for more than half the year.

  • In reality, however, it's been more of a free-for-all, with the city issuing just 63 official short-term-rental permits despite more than 1,000 active listings.

The new rules double down on the owner-occupancy requirement in residential districts.

  • They also make enforcement easier by putting the onus on would-be operators to prove they actually live in the property using voting or DMV records.

Non-owner-occupied listings would only be allowed in commercially zoned areas, which the city reasons are already open to dense development and "transient uses," as the planning office puts it.

  • The rules do set a few guidelines, namely limiting multi-family buildings to a maximum of 10 units and no more than a third of any given building.

What we're watching: Vonck has said a new focus on enforcement will accompany the new rules.

  • He has committed to hiring two new zoning enforcement officers.
  • And he said the city's decision earlier this summer to begin taxing Airbnbs like hotels has resulted in a trove of data that makes it easier than ever to identify unlicensed listings.

Of note: At the same meeting, city council members passed an ordinance allowing people to build accessory dwelling units, aka granny flats, on any single-family property in the city.

  • And if you did build such a structure in your backyard, you would be allowed to rent it out as a short-term rental — even in a residential neighborhood.

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