Airbnb Rules Finally Proposed

DCRA has finally taken steps to create a regulatory regime for Airbnb rentals. The proposed rulemaking is in line with the aggressive legislation passed by the DC Council in 2018. Both the law and the proposed rule are opposed strongly by the company, and some homeowners, but are likely welcome by those living near Airbnb properties and, of course, the currently beleaguered hotel industry.

GM has been covering the issue of Airbnb in Georgetown since 2014. Many of the listings–which quickly grew to dozens around the neighborhood–were almost certainly illegal. That is because, while Airbnb originally sold itself as a service for homeowners to welcome guests into their home, the primary use of the platform was for homeowners (and investors) to rent out whole properties. To do that requires a business license, and the zoning rules for Georgetown did not permit homeowners to do so without a variance.

But with the exception of especially egregious properties that were hosting huge parties, the city was not actively enforcing the rules. This led to a rise in properties being bought specifically to be turned into Airbnb listings. But then the Council stepped in a passed legislation in 2018 to essentially hobble property-owners from using Airbnb the way most did.

The law established a 90 night limit for homeowners to rent their property without being present. (There’s no limit if they remain present.) The law also prohibits homeowners using second or third homes for Airbnb. Last year the Zoning Commission adopted rules in line with the law, but DCRA still needed to establish an actual licensing regime to put the law into actual effect. That is what the proposed rules would do.

Purely anecdotally, GM has noticed a sharp decrease in Airbnb listings around his blocks since the law went into effect, even though the city still does not seem to be enforcing the law yet. With investors being legally blocked from listing homes (it has to be a primary residence) many appear to have either sold their properties or switched to long term rentals. We will see whether having a regulatory regime up and running will inspire more homeowners to list their homes.

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