DC Hearing on Short-Term Rentals Raises More Questions

by Nena Perry-Brown

The ghost of DC Council hearings past was present at Thursday night's Zoning Commission (ZC) meeting, as the body received testimony on how the zoning code should clarify the definition of short-term rentals and where they can operate in DC.

When the Short-term Rental Regulation and Affordable Housing Protection Act was passed last year there was concern about whether zoning code prohibitions on short-term rentals in DC's residential zones would remove hundreds of units from the short-term market once the law is implemented. Consequently, the October 1st implementation date came and went as the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs waits for new zoning rules.

While the matter of how short-term rentals fit into the zoning code was not resolved at last night's hearing, a number of questions were raised and addressed about a law that still has some DC residents — and zoning commissioners — confused.

After Council Chair Phil Mendelson testified on behalf of the zoning text amendment he requested, Commission Chair Anthony Hood requested clarification as to whether an Office of Planning staff report suggested that short-term rental regulations could be amended further to allow hosts to rent out a second unit, and for the 90-day maximum cap for absent hosts to be raised. OP staff clarified that, rather than recommending future changes to the short-term rental regulations, the report was acknowledging arguments made by DC residents.

"OP was simply noting for the Commission's information some of the concerns that had been raised by the public," the OP staff representative replied. "That being said, we recommend approval of the Zoning Text Amendment as is."

Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANC) 1A and 6C requested that the ZC establish its own definition of short-term rentals rather than follow the OP staff recommendation to link the zoning code definition directly to the DC Code. ANC 1A reasoned that opting not to establish an independent definition would set a poor precedent of allowing the Council to circumvent zoning authority and could also undermine the legal status of short-term rentals should the law be overturned via court appeal. ANC 6C, meanwhile, encouraged the commission to establish a definition for short-term rentals with stricter regulations than are in the law.

Testimony from DC residents and Airbnb and hotel lobby representatives from Airbnb largely echoed testimonies made when regulations were being debated in Council, although it was also clear that a lot of uncertainty remains.

Chair Mendelson addressed several resident questions, including whether the new law permits short-term rental of leased units (it doesn't); whether third-party managers of several short-term rentals will still be allowed (they will, although only homeowners can hold licenses); and whether short-term rentals could be permitted in downtown zones (Mendelson hopes the zoning ruling will address this).

The Commission is expected to issue a ruling next week. 

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/for-some-zoning-hearing-on-short-term-rentals-raised-more-questions/16036

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