Virginia lawmakers delay short-term rental decision

The General Assembly has passed a bill that keeps intact for at least one more year Warren County’s power to deny property owners the right to rent their homes for less than 30 consecutive days.

The legislation, which applies to all of the state’s counties, was sponsored by Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Upperville. It addresses an issue raised by a recent lawsuit in which a local property owner, Tareq Salahi, challenged Warren County’s refusal to grant him a permit needed for short-term rentals.

A Circuit Court judge ruled in favor of the county, and the Virginia Supreme Court refused to hear the case when Salahi appealed.

The legislation allows the county to continue to block Salahi’s efforts to rent out his home at 440 Scenic Drive near Linden. In the meantime, a group representing hotel owners, local government officials property owners and other interested parties will study the issue of short-term rentals around the state.

Online housing platforms such as Airbnb may also be among the participants.

The bill also contains wording that would strip local governments of their authority to prohibit short-term rentals, but another provision in the bill states that it cannot take effect unless it is approved again by the 2017 session of the General Assembly.

Assistant County Attorney Dan Whitten said he would have preferred that the General Assembly reject the bill, but he was pleased that it postpones a final decision on local government authority until next year.

“In our opinion, we still think a conditional use permit should be required,” Whitten said.

Whitten said the county has no flat ban on short-term rentals, and some applications have been approved. Payment of transient taxes is among the conditions imposed on those using their property for short-term rentals.

“They’re abiding by the conditions and paying the transient taxes,” Whitten said of those who currently hold a conditional use permit.

All local lawmakers voted for the final version of the bill, including Del. Chris Collins, R-Winchester, who had opposed an earlier version.

Collins said he was pleased at the final version’s provision that creates a panel to study short-term rentals before a final vote is taken on the measure in 2017.

“I hope this resolution will alleviate some of the fears, and we’ll come out with a much better product,” Collins said.

Salahi, a former reality TV personality, issued a written statement condemning Warren County officials and the Board of Supervisors.

“For the sake of our community, the current county administration and Board of Supervisors should resign immediately,” Salahi wrote. “Their anti-American behavior has wasted hundreds of thousands of hard-working taxpayers’ dollars and prevented new tax dollars (from) coming into the county.”

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