At Thursday night’s meeting, the Reston Association Board of Directors voted to explore amending the association’s covenants to clarify and strengthen rules surrounding whether residents are permitted to rent out their homes temporarily to visitors, such as through sites like Airbnb.com.
Airbnb has become a hot topic throughout Fairfax County over the past year. County officials have sought to remind residents of the laws regarding short-term rentals of less than 30 days. Special permits must be obtained for operating one’s home much like a bed and breakfast, and for the most part, only single-family homes are allowed to do so, and not attached homes such as apartments, condos or townhomes.
Reston Association has previously mandated that, as part of the county, residents follow the county laws. However, the RA has been receiving some complaints about residents that have been renting out their homes on Airbnb anyway.
In particular, several letters have been received about a home on Trails Edge Lane. Complaints have alleged that not only have the owners been renting out parts of the home for as little as one day–at rates as low as $28 per night–but they have been exceeding maximum safe occupancy limits, sometimes putting multiple renters to a room, and renting out three to four rooms in a single home at the same time.
According to RA documents, the current owners purchased the home in question in January of 2016, and the complaints began just a few months later.
At first, documents indicate RA staff spoke with the homeowners, who agreed to abide by the county’s rules and only rent out the home for periods of longer than 30 days, which would not violate the county’s rules against “short-term” rentals.
It wasn’t long before complaints began coming in again, though, this time alleging that the homeowners were packing the house to the point of maxing out safe occupancy guidelines, and congesting the Trails Edge Lane cul-de-sac with parked vehicles that appeared to belong to the renters, edging out available parking for neighbors.
When RA staff started investigating the complaints, they became aware that the homeowner had recently filed an official application with the county to build a second dwelling unit on the property.
As they explored how a second unit on the homeowner’s property would impact surrounding residents, they said they could see that neighbors were unhappy.
“Pursuant to [the Zoning Ordinance], permit applications may only be approved if the proposed use will be harmonious with and will not adversely affect the use of neighboring properties. Based on the reports provided to us by the adjacent and nearby neighbors of the applicant, overwhelmingly indicating that their use and enjoyment of their properties has been negatively impacted, it is our position that the proposed use fails to meet this standard,” the RA staff members wrote in their notes to the Board of Directors.
The notes went on to state that neighbors had indicated there would often be as many as four to five additional cars parked on the cul-de-sac at a time, and that some parents with young children no longer felt it was safe to allow their children to play outside unsupervised, as they had long done in the past.
In conclusion, the staff members’ notes said they did not recommend approval of the application, and they believed that adding a second dwelling unit on the land would be detrimental to neighbors’ quality of life.
In an interesting twist, Ken Chadwick, general counsel to the RA Board, announced during Thursday’s meeting that the homeowner had just withdrawn his application for the additional dwelling unit.
Nonetheless, Chadwick said the whole issue had brought to light many problems with the enforcing of short-term rentals of Reston homes, and he suggested that Reston’s covenants needed to be updated to clarify the association’s position.
“We’re relying on the county code at this point, under our documents, to enforce any of the short-term rentals [regulations], but our documents do not have any provisions in them that, in and of themselves, independently, could be enforced,” Chadwick told board members.
Chadwick explained that in situations such as this, action depended on the county to first issue an official violation to the homeowner, and that allowed Reston Association to assist in its enforcement. Chadwick did report that he had been notified that an official violation was in the process of being sent to the homeowner by the county.
One resident addressed the Board during the meeting, adding that he was speaking on behalf of other residents as well, to state that he was glad to hear that the homeowner had withdrawn his application to put an accessory dwelling unit on his property to make room for more occupants, but that many are concerned he will continue to operate his business, which he categorized as “basically, what amounts to a hotel, on a residential street,” he said.
Another resident spoke up, providing print-outs to show that the homeowner had three of the bedrooms in his single-family home up for rental on Airbnb at the very moment, and that in the listings the homeowner was referring to the home as a “group home” in a “shared community.”
Board members asked Chadwick what could be done, and he said that evidence of all the regulations the homeowner is violating would need to be gathered, and then they could possibly be filed with the county and they could obtain a temporary injunction or conjunctive relief against the homeowner to prohibit further renting of the property while more “long-term solutions” are explored.
In addition, board members unanimously voted to have CEO Cate Fulkerson write an official letter on behalf of the Board expressing the association’s “grave concern.”
Board members also voted to initiate the process of exploring how to amend governing documents to clarify the RA’s position on “homesharing.”
A deadline of one week was placed on the directive, by which staff agreed to present a report educating the Board on their options for such an amendment.
See full footage of the discussion in the RA’s YouTube video of Thursday’s meeting.