RICHMOND ’23: Short-term rental proposal draws criticism from officials

State Sen. Lynwood Lewis. File photo

BY TED SHOCKLEY, Eastern Shore Post —

A General Assembly bill would allow short-term rental properties managed by a licensed real estate agent to be exempt from some municipal restrictions and ordinances.

The bill, filed by state Senator Lynwood Lewis Jr. of Accomac, would limit a locality’s ability to place restrictions on short-term rentals — which are usually used by vacationers and travelers in lieu of hotels — that are managed by real estate agents.

Lewis said the bill would prevent “regulations that can be overly burdensome” to the rentals. Short-term rentals not affiliated with a real estate agent would be subject to the municipality’s rules. 

“Some localities took it to the (greatest) degree,” said Lewis of the regulations. He advocated putting oversight of the issue in the hands of real estate professionals.

“The Realtors are licensed by the Commonwealth of Virginia. They are regulated by the Commonwealth of Virginia,” he said.

The bill caused frustration among Eastern Shore government leaders who have been working to regulate short-term rentals, which can put active vacationers — and the festive atmosphere that often accompanies them — in quiet residential areas.

Others said it was taking a responsibility away from elected officials and putting it in the hands of real estate agents. 

“It’s an erosion of local control,” said John Hozey, the town manager of Cape Charles, which has about 200 short-term rentals within its limits.

He said the bill would create one set of rules for short-term rentals managed by real estate agents and different rules for self-managed properties.

“Administrating something like that would be a nightmare,” Hozey said. 

Even though he manages one of the Eastern Shore’s most-visited vacation towns, Hozey said he wasn’t asked about the bill before it was filed.

“This all was submitted at the very last moment,” he said. “The public really didn’t get to know it was coming.”

The bill would prohibit a locality from limiting occupancy, requiring additional parking spaces, or disallowing short-term rentals altogether. 

It also would prohibit building code inspections more frequently than every five years unless a complaint had been made. 

Lewis said one of the benefits of the bill is that it would give renters a single point of contact — the real estate agent managing the property — in case there was a problem.

He said the bill will not override a municipality’s licensing of short-term rentals, nor would it trump a homeowner’s association. 

“It’s a process,” Lewis said of the bill. “It will continue to evolve.”

John Coker, chairman of the Northampton County Board of Supervisors, said the bill “is based on what real estate agents want, and not on what is being experienced in our towns and counties by our citizens.”

He said: “We very much like our visitors and want our property owners to be able to rent their houses but we do not want this activity to disrupt our local neighborhoods and our citizens.”

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