After two long meetings in the past three weeks, the Lynchburg Planning Commission came to a recommendation Wednesday night regarding short-term rentals and how to regulate them.
The commission’s recommendations for the new ordinance, along with city staff’s recommendations, will go before city council in the coming months.
After a discussion on the topic at a Jan. 23 meeting, planning commissioners decided they wanted city officials to take a closer look at a few items within the draft ordinance.
During the meeting, supporters of short-term rentals said renting out their homes supplements their income and increases tourism in the city, as well as provides alternatives to hotels. But the city has stated it has heard 11 complaints last year and six in 2017 regarding short-term rentals and the safety, noise and trash associated with them.
Commissioners agreed in January an updated ordinance for the growing short-term rental market is necessary,but more discussion was needed on some key items: the amount of the registration fee charged by the city, the maximum number of occupants allowed a one time and whether the property owner needed by the present while guests are in the home.
During Wednesday’s meeting, City Planner Tom Martin reminded planning commissioners that there are about 365 short-term listings in the city, an increase of 37 percent between 2016 and 2017.
Commissioners agreed short-term rentals should be allowed citywide, except in industrial zones. They also recommended a $150 registration fee and a $500 penalty fee if unpaid. Currently there is no registration fee.
The registration fee would be the equivalent of collecting the city’s 6.5 percent lodging tax if the property is used for short-term rental for 30 days per year at an estimated $75 per night.
“By having a [registration fee] like that, it’s for people who are serious about doing it,” Commissioner David Perault said.
Recommendations also included short-term rentals should be occupied for less than 30 days and property owners can only rent their space for no more than 120 days per year.The current policy does not address how many days owners can rent out their homes.
The proposed ordinance states residential zones R-1, R-2 and R-C require owner occupancy, meaning the owner should live in the home full-time. This does not apply to any other zoning districts.
In addressing owner-occupancy, planning commissioners expressed concerns of creating a neighborhood just for short-term rentals, with no owners present to police their guests or clean up after them.
Chairman Tom Rogers asked Community Development Director Kent White and Zoning Administrator Kevin Henry if those currently renting their homes just for short-term rentals could be grandfathered into the ordinance, meaning the new rules would not apply,but both agreed everyone would need to be treated equally.
Henry said there would be a grace period of a few months while notices were sent out.
Commissioner Kensie Johnson said she understood the logic of “owner-occupied” but felt it was limiting the rights of property owners.
However, the owner would not have to be present in the rental while guests stay there, a change planning commissioners made from city staff’s recommendation.
“We need to distinguish owner-occupancy and the owner actually being there,” Commissioner Nancy Marion said. “Renting my house for the weekend is different from me not living there; it’s still my home and I still have my neighbors who I have to see. There’s a big difference. I would like owner-occupancy, but as far as owners having to be there, that I’m not so sure about.”
Recommendations also include allowing no more than four unrelated individuals staying in a short-term rental citywide, but there is no maximum for related guests, another change commissioners made from city staff’s recommendation to the ordinance.
City staff had proposed there be no more than three unrelated individuals per dwelling unit unless authorized by a conditional use permit.
Johnson said the trend of short-term rentals is for friends and girls to get away together and said she had a problem with the limit of three people. Commissioners also said they liked the idea of being able to allow two couples to stay together in one rental.
The short-term rentals would need to comply with building codes and the recommendation states if there are three violations, the city can revote on the rental permit.