Planning Department To Weigh In on Airbnb Legislation

Planners will host July 18 public meeting on proposal opposed by civic leaders

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A sampling of the Airbnb listings available Thursday morning in Bethesda and Chevy Chase

Airbnb

Civic leaders who oppose legislation to legalize and regulate the use of home rental services such as Airbnb will have another opportunity to present their arguments during a July 18 public meeting hosted by the county’s Planning Department.

The meeting, set for 7 to 9 p.m. at the department’s headquarters at 8787 Georgia Ave. in Silver Spring, comes after County Council members asked for the department’s views on a pair of measures that would change the county’s zoning code to allow for short-term home rentals and set up licensing requirements.

While short-term rentals facilitated by websites such as Airbnb, Flipkey, HomeAway and VRBO are technically illegal under the county’s zoning code, county officials know the services are being used throughout the county. The rentals typically involve stays of a week or a few days.

Council member Hans Riemer, who introduced the zoning text amendment and bill earlier this year, said he wants to regulate short-term rentals in the county in a way that allows for the services to continue, but also respects concerns of neighbors and prevents homeowners from renting their properties for the short term on a year-round basis.

The measures were already the subject of a standard council public hearing in March. The July 18 meeting is a rare step for council legislation that has already gone through a council public hearing. Typically, council legislation at that stage moves on to further debate through a council committee before members make a recommendation for a full council vote.

In this case, the council is asking the department and Planning Board to provide additional information on short-term rentals and for their own recommendations concerning Riemer’s legislation.

“Part of this effort is to provide examples of regulations adopted by other jurisdictions locally and nationally that could assist Montgomery County in crafting its own new legislation,” reads the department’s web page announcing the July 18 meeting.

At the March council public hearing, representatives of at least eight civic and neighborhood organizations testified against the idea of legalizing services such as Airbnb. The groups are worried short-term renters will take street parking spaces used by residents and disrupt neighborhoods in other ways.

“This proposal makes a mockery of local zoning,” said Andy Harney, manager of Chevy Chase Village Section 3, at the public hearing. “We could conceivably transform whole neighborhoods into streets of boarding houses with minimal oversight and regulation, bringing down property values, destroying the very definition of a single-family home.”

After the hearing, Riemer said those civic and neighborhood leaders seemed to misunderstand the purpose of the legislation, which would actually limit the number of short-term rental service guests at one property to five people or one family of any size. It would also require a property listed on Airbnb or any home rental website to be the primary residence of its owner—an attempt to prevent homes from being rented for the short term year-round.

“I think Airbnb would be happy if we just don’t pass a bill,” Riemer said. “The status quo is great for them.”

Planners say they intend to strike a balance with their recommendations.

“Some critics have noted that widespread conversion of residential housing to short-term rentals, when taken to extremes, could result in the loss of housing for permanent residents,” the Planning Department says on its website. “The overall intent of any proposed legislation is to strike a balance in recognizing the demand for short-term tenancy of residential property, while minimizing negative impacts on the residential character of existing neighborhoods.”

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