Albemarle County Revises Homestay Regulations

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On August 7 the Board of Supervisors approved a set of revised zoning regulations governing the operation of “homestays,” in which homeowners rent out rooms or accessory buildings on their property to guests for less than 30 days (such as an AirBnB). The new rules divide homestays into three categories: those in residential areas, those in the rural area on less than five acres of land, and those in the rural area on more than five acres.

Only one rule allows greater homeowner latitude—owners on large rural area lots may now rent out their whole house without being present on the parcel, though only for a maximum of 45 days per year. All other rule changes are more restrictive and include: 

The maximum number of guest rooms allowed is reduced to two (from five) for residential and small rural parcels;

All homestay parking must be off-street, including in the residential area;

Annual registration and safety inspections are now required of all homestays;

A 125-foot setback from abutting lots is required for all homestays;

No accessory structure may be used as a homestay on residential or smaller rural area parcels.

The supervisors will allow citizens to apply for special exceptions to these rules, to be decided on a case-by-case basis by the board. Also, there is a “grandfathering” of sorts—if a homestay was properly licensed before August 7, 2019, its use may continue subject to the conditions of the prior approval.

Several county residents spoke at the meeting about the need for consistent compliance monitoring and enforcement by county staff so that the process is fair to all homestay operators. “Right now, the reliance of staff is based on the reporting of the populace at large, pitting neighbor against neighbor, instead of enforcing it yourselves,” said Larry McElwain, a local real estate lawyer and homestay owner. 

Noncompliance is rampant in Crozet (see “Staying Power,” February 2019), and county staff say they will address the compliance gap “proactively” at first. “We’ve begun using third-party software to determine how many unlicensed homestays there are,” said Director of Zoning Bart Svoboda. “We’ll find out who can come into compliance and who can’t, try to close that gap, and will look again at how we’re doing in a March report to the board.” If homeowners refuse to comply, state regulations allow for fines for unlicensed homestays of $500 per day. 

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