Short-term rental bills making headway

Del. Michael Webert
Jill Holtzman Vogel
Mark Obenshain
Christopher Collins

Legislation clearing the way for property owners to rent their homes for fewer than 30 days is edging closer to passage in the General Assembly after receiving preliminary approval from the House of Delegates and Senate.

The legislation is an attempt to settle disputes between property owners and local governments such as the one in which Tareq Salahi challenged Warren County’s crackdown on short-term tourist rentals at his home at 440 Scenic Overlook Drive near Linden.

The Warren County Board of Supervisors opposed the legislation, and local legislators were split. Del. Michael Webert, R-Marshall, voted for it, and Sen. Jill Holtzman-Vogel, R-Upperville, sponsored it in the Senate. Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, also voted for it.

Del. Christopher Collins, R-Winchester, opposed it.

Salahi, a former reality TV showman, unsuccessfully sued Warren County after officials denied him a permit for short-term rentals. County officials have said neighbors complained of traffic around the site, loss of privacy and beer bottles and other trash strewn about.

A Circuit Court judge upheld the county’s actions, and the Virginia Supreme Court refused to hear Salahi’s appeal.

Holtzman-Vogel said she was aware of local officials’ objections to the legislation, but decided that property owners should have the right to lease their homes for tourism and other purposes for short periods of time. The legislation passed the House of Delegates, 75-22, but barely survived a 20-19 vote for approval in the Senate.

“Localities might want to ban that, but I think as a property matter, you ought to be able to make money off your property,” she said.

Collins said he voted against the House version in response to opposition from local government officials.

“The Front Royal Town Council and (Warren County) Board of Supervisors both sent me information that they were not in favor of this legislation,” Collins said, adding that local officials want to regulate small, individually owned properties rented out through Airbnb, an online booking service.

Warren County Assistant County Attorney Dan Whitten, who led the legal battle against Salahi, said the legislation is limited to homes used as the owners’ primary residences. Local governments could still ban short-term rentals at residences used as vacation homes or other secondary purposes.

“The Board of Supervisors felt that short-term rentals should not be allowed in gated communities or other places where residences are close to each other,” Whitten said. “We felt that localities should have the zoning authority to require conditional use permits.”

Webert said the bill is intended for “good, honest citizens” who have an extra room to rent for “a few days.”

A single, final version of the legislation must still be written after the Senate and House finish reviewing the versions that passed the other chamber. Webert said he hoped the final review might produce some amendments that would ease Warren County’s concerns about the Salahi property.

“We don’t want any bad apples taking advantage of the product,” Webert said of the legislation.

Salahi, who is honeymooning in the Maldives islands in the Indian Ocean, could not be reached for comment.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com

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