After months of discussion, Lynchburg City Council has approved an ordinance on short-term rentals.
The ordinance, which affects Airbnb owners and other short-term rental owners, requires that anyone managing a short-term rental must register with the city by July 1 and pay a one-time fee of $150.
The ordinance also does not require a short-term rental be occupied by its owner, and does not allow more than four unrelated persons to stay in a short-term rental, parts of the ordinance that were decided at the Sept. 10 council meeting.
The city will sign a voluntary collection agreement for a lodging tax from Airbnb that will generate an estimated $150,000 annually for the city.
Short-term rentals that receive three strikes in one year — violations of state or local laws — will be prohibited from renting, per the ordinance, a point decided by council Tuesday night.
Council also decided on Tuesday that if short-term rental owners have multiple properties, they do not have to pay a fee for each property. If ownership of a property changes, or an owner acquires another short-term rental, another $150 fee will have to be paid to the city.
During the discussion, council members expressed exasperation at the amount of times the ordinance had been discussed.
"We have talked about this so many times,” Councilman Sterling Wilder said. “I’m getting so confused about what we’re doing, what we’re not doing.”
Council has been discussing the matter since January, and short-term rental owners in attendance on Tuesday were relieved the ordinance finally passed.
Jason Phelps, who owns an Airbnb off Boonsboro Road with his wife, attended Tuesday's meeting with a few other short-term rental owners.
"As a group ... we feel like it’s a really good compromise,” Phelps said. “It is a significant improvement over the original proposal that went before the planning commission back in January.”
Phelps and his wife opened their Airbnb about a year ago, and often see groups of two or three people stay for a few nights to tour colleges in the area or who come to Lynchburg for specific events.
Phelps started a Facebook group last December for Airbnb hosts, called Lynchburg Aribnb Host Community, which has grown to about 150 members.
The most important parts of the ordinance for Phelps and other Airbnb hosts were ensuring that the short-term rentals did not need to be owner-occupied and requiring a one-time $150 fee rather than an annual fee to operate a short-term rental.
Phelps said he and his group worked with city council to help them understand how Airbnbs work and how an ordinance could help or hurt Airbnb hosts.
The ordinance passed 5-2, with council members MaryJane Dolan and Jeff Helgeson not in favor of the ordinance.
Councilman Turner Perrow said he thinks the ordinance is a reasonable compromise.
"There's no definitive right way or wrong way to do this," Perrow said. "It protects our neighborhoods."
Dolan said she did not think the ordinance protects the integrity of the neighborhoods.
Phelps said he is not worried about Airbnbs taking over and negatively impacting neighborhoods.
“One of the things that it was important for council to notice is that … Lynchburg is not a tourist destination," he said. “People don’t usually come here just to visit."
Mayor Treney Tweedy said she does want to maintain neighborhood integrity, and hopes to see a follow-up from city staff on how the ordinance is affecting short-term rental owners.
"I don’t want to inhibit people from being business owners,” Tweedy said.