Lewis’ bill on short-term rentals likely shelved for the year

State Sen. Lynwood Lewis. File photo

BY TED SHOCKLEY, Eastern Shore Post —

A bill proposed by state Sen. Lynwood Lewis that would allow short-term rental properties managed by a licensed real estate agent to be exempt from some municipal restrictions essentially has died in a General Assembly committee.

Senate Bill 1391, which would limit a locality’s ability to place restrictions on short-term rentals — like those listed on websites www.airbnb.com and www.vrbo.com — was “passed by indefinitely” by unanimous vote in the committee on local government.

An aide in Lewis’ office said a bill  “passed by indefinitely” could reemerge at any time, but this bill likely had been shelved for the General Assembly session. 

A similar bill, House Bill 2271, presented in the House of Delegates by Delegate Daniel Marshall, a Danville-area Republican, remains under committee review, an aide for Marshall said Tuesday.

Lewis said the bill would protect owners of short-term rentals from possible government regulations that would be “overly burdensome.”

Instead, he advocated exempting some municipal rules from properties managed by  state-licensed real estate agents.

The bill would prohibit a locality from limiting occupancy, requiring additional parking spaces, or disallowing short-term rentals altogether. It also set limits on how frequently municipal  inspections of short-term rentals could take place. 

The bill drew considerable frustration from local elected officials who felt blindsided by the bill. 

Town Manager John Hozey of Cape Charles, which has roughly 200 short-term rentals, said he was never contacted about the bill and called it “an erosion of local control.”

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.”

In a Jan. 24 statement, Lewis said his office had received “significant feedback” on the bill.

He said it would not exempt short-term rentals from conditional-use permits, from the provisions of property owners’ associations, or from ordinances for noise, trash, or zoning. 

“What this legislation does do is ensure that short-term rental properties that are managed by licensed Realtors —  who are regulated by the Commonwealth and must follow a specific code of ethics and conduct or risk losing their license — are able to operate safely and successfully and without some of the significant overreach that has happened recently,” Lewis wrote. 

Lewis has received $60,000 in campaign contributions from the National Association of Realtors since 2015 and almost $28,000 from the Virginia Association of Realtors in the past decade, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. 

The public access website also showed Lewis owns between $5,000 and $50,000 of a real estate title company called ACC-NOT Title Policies of VA LLC.

Marshall has received $87,210 in campaign contributions from the National Association of Realtors and $21,600 fom the Virginia Association of Realtors during his political career, according to the project. 

Lewis denied that his introduction of the bill was linked to the contributions. 

“I’m carrying a bill for the bankers this year — it’s not because they gave me money,” he said. 

“If we did not carry the bills of poeple who contribute to campaigns, there would be no bills introduced,” he said. 

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