HARRISONBURG — Following a public hearing, City Council without hesitation unanimously approved removing registration requirements for short-term rentals, which will save property owners a $50 annual fee to operate within the city.
Tuesday’s hearing also included the consideration of amending the civil penalties, which included modifying the city code’s Zoning Ordinance Section 10-3-13, which describes the penalties for violations of the Zoning Ordinance.
No one spoke during the hearing.
Voting in favor of both changes was Mayor Deanna Reed and Councilmen Chris Jones, George Hirschmann and Richard Baugh. Councilman Sal Romero was not present.
Currently, the section says that operating a short-term rental in violation of section 10-3-205, which is associated with the five general regulations for short-term rentals, shall be punishable by civil penalty.
The new code eliminated the reference to Section 10-3-205 and replaced it with “the Zoning Ordinance.”
Section 10-3-205 general regulations include:
• Lodging contracts shall be limited to a period of fewer than 30 consecutive nights.
• Any food service offered shall be limited to guests.
• Short-term rentals shall have the dates for trash and recycling collection posted prominently.
• Short-term rentals shall not be marketed and used for weddings, receptions or events, unless approved, and may be conditioned during the special-use permit process.
• Operators shall comply with the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code and Virginia Statewide Fire Prevention Code.
Although council voted to eliminate the annual $50 fee, there will still be a $425 charge to apply for the special-use permit, and an additional $30 per acre. Rental operators will still be required to have a business license.
Adam Fletcher, the city’s director of planning and community development, told council Tuesday that because staff can track short-term rentals through sites like Airbnb.com and see who has obtained a business license, staff felt no need to have a fee associated with the permits.
With a special-use permit, properties offered online through Airbnb.com and similar sites will be classified along with bed-and-breakfasts as short-term rentals and required to have a special-use permit to operate in residential areas.
Since council approved the special-use permit regulations in March, a grace period began where short-term rental users without a permit have not been penalized. Instead, notices are being sent out informing them that penalties could ensue if found operating on or after Aug. 1
Individuals found illegally operating a short-term rental without a permit will receive a violation notice with a $100 fine for the first offense and a $500 penalty for any subsequent offense. Violators who rack up $5,000 in penalties could be charged with a misdemeanor.
Council, which held nine public hearings for short-term rental requests, will have more hearings at its July 23 meeting before enforcement begins.